In this four part series Todd Gray takes on the daunting task of giving us a full rundown of writer Grant Morrison's run on Batman. Here is part 2,
part 3, and part 4.
I complained for awhile about the direction Grant Morrison took my beloved Batman, and decided that Morrison's Batman was not for me. I had a laundry list of nitpicks I thought qualified me to make this statement. But I was really just being non-conformist for the sake of being non-conformist. I really was just being argumentative and insecure.
So I put up or shut up. I now collect my thoughts and put Morrison's Batman on trial.
Here is what qualifies me to be an authority of Batman, and an authority on an author as divisive as Grant "I talk to aliens and Gods!" Morrison.
I started reading Batman comics when I was just learning to read. My first level reading skills were honed on 1970s Batman Family and Richie Rich comics, which probably explains a lot in hindsight. My favorite uncle stored a massive box of old comics in his spare bedroom that he let me root through whenever I came to visit.
I devoured the reruns of Adam West and Burt Ward's campy TV show, I didn't leave the house on Saturdays until I watched that week's episode of Super Friends. And I was always Batman when my cousin Kelly and I tied towels around our necks and ran around the yard playing superheroes.
I've seen the best that Batman comic books had to offer (Year One, Dark Knight Returns, A Lonely Place of Dying, and Killing Joke.)
I've seen the worst, Knightfall. (For the record, the only good thing to come out of that was Bane. So you know it was bad.) Any Bat-book Bob Layton wrote and drew, Brian Azzarello's horrible attempt to make Killer Croc into a fat guy with bad skin, and War Crimes.
When it comes to Batman and 75 years worth of Batman creators, I've got nostalgic favorites and guilty pleasures. Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle breathed new life into the titles for years. Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis's short lived run remains one of the best after all this time, and Neal Adams, Denny O'Neil, and Jim Aparo working with anyone. I am one of the few willing to stand up for Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan's run as one of the most action packed runs on a comic book, any comic book, ever.
As obsessive as I am about Batman, I can safely say that I am just as obsessive about Grant Morrison. Morrison is a Scottish writer known primarily for his incredibly dense narratives and nonlinear story structures. He rewards patient and attentive readers with some of the most imaginative and dramatic stories printed in a comic book. I've read almost everything he has written, except his Vampirella (not even he could make me care.) Since his American debut on Animal Man, his Doom Patrol, a love letter to the original 1960s DC Comics and a bold experiment in surrealism, remains on list of greatest comics of all time. I'm a fan.
However, as radically imaginative and inventive as Grant Morrison's scripts are, they are just as often impenetrable to the casual reader to the point that they can impair the storytelling. Instead of rewarding readers, his scripts can have the exact opposite effect by penalizing readers to the point they feel dumber for having read his books.
This has never been as apparent as with his run on Batman.
Everyone, regular and non-regular comics readers can empathize with Batman. It's about a young boy who watches something awful happen that he is unable to prevent, and is so affected that he spends his life making sure it doesn't happen again. It is the need for self- preservation. If something is scary and dangerous, make yourself scarier and more dangerous.
Another reason for Batman's appeal is that he is one of few superheroes that is somewhat attainable by humans. Radioactive spiders and magic lightning ain't going to happen. However, we could try to reach the pinnacle of human perfection through martial arts, strength training, and detective deductive training. Those goals are possible to achieve.
Not only should Grant Morrison understand the mindset of Batman, the entire audience should understand. There isn't any complicated science or history to know. At the very core of Batman is a story that is universal.