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 1,
part 2, and part 4.
In issues 670 and 671 I began to lose faith. These two tied into a storyline that stretched across the entire Bat-Family of books. I had serious reservations about this storyline, which undid everything writer Greg Rucka did in the Death and the Maidens, in which Ra's Al Ghul finally met his demise.
It also marked the first issue drawn by Tony Daniel. Which brings me to my biggest problem with Morrison's tenure on the book, the artwork.
I have no idea if Morrison chooses his artists or if he is assigned artists as they are available. But Morrison's very breath upon a book is a guarantee of increased sales. He usually brings along an artist of equal caliber. His first collaborator was Andy Kubert, the equivalent of comic book royalty. He, like his father and brother, are industry legends. Each made their names with the tightest pencils and best storytelling abilities in the business.
John Van Fleet, one of the boldest, most innovative painters, illustrated Morrison's experimental #663. JH Williams III, artist of Batman 667 to 669, Club of Heroes story arc, established himself with these three issues. He draws each character in a different style, often in the same panels, and his page layouts are like nothing I've seen before.
Tony Daniel, not so much.
Tony Daniel first worked on books for Marvel and Image. His art style seems rooted in that early 1990s Image style, with lots of flash and poor storytelling ability. Daniel's artwork has come a long way from his overly stylized work on The Tenth and Danger Girl, which seemed like attempt to cash in on The Pitt and Danger Girl. He has found his artistic voice now, but he does not deserve to be paired with a writer of Morrison's caliber on such a high profile book.
Morrison's scripts deserve the very best comic book superstars, Phil Jimenez, Frank Quietly, JH Williams III or J.G. Jones. I think Tony Daniel was chosen purely for his ability to produce pages quickly, and it shows.
In rereading, I quite enjoyed Morrison's Batman until Tony Daniel came aboard and the beginning of the Batman R.I.P. arc in #676 to 681. Until that storyline, all of the problems I had were in the package, not the delivery.
Unlike his usual razor sharp scripts, it felt like this one was threadbare. But Morrison brought together the elements he carefully seeded until then. The references to Batman's Black Casebook, investigations into the supernatural or sci-fi stories Morrison had made a part of regular continuity again, The Black Glove, Batman's unknown ultimate enemy, Batman's fiance Jezebel Jet, Joker, Talia Al Ghul, Damian all swirled together into the finale of Morrison's run on Batman.
I originally read the story in monthly increments. I admit I got lost. I had no idea why Batman was running around in a garish purple costume calling himself Zur En Arrh. By going back and reading it all together helped me see that Morrison carefully threaded the story and told every step of the way where it was going and why.
He repeatedly mentioned Alfred loved to read lurid pulp novels, so Batman's diary entries are told in that style and the story reflects that tone.
Meanwhile, Zur En Arrh was created during Batman's participation in a meditative experiment. Batman was created when Bruce Wayne needed him most, and Zur En Arrh was created when Batman needed his own hero most.
Going back to reread a story I had dismissed helped me realize that a lot of my problems with the story were a result of reading it monthly. I missed or forgot ideas and plot points the first time. Morrison's scripts were unforgiving and often penalized the inattentive. This story was one of those times.
The story makes more sense the second time around. But I still had many of the same problems with the overall story. Morrison falls victim to too many cliches: the expendable police officer assisting Commissioner Gordon, and the helicopter crash ending.
The end reveal in #680 with Joker saying "Now do you get it?" is confusing.
But my biggest problem is that Batman's death doesn't even happen in his own book. Readers were expected to buy and read DC's mega crossover Final Crisis for Batman's true death. This meant that the helicopter explosion and melodramatic shot of Nightwing standing on the shoreline holding Batman's cape and cowl was just an editorial directive. Some ending had to be shoehorned for readers that didn't buy Final Crisis.