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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Batman: The Legacy left by Grant Morrison




Batman

 Grant Morrison's Legacy

 

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Last year saw another lengthy comic book run come to a close. Grant Morrison finished off his lengthy writing stint on Batman with the completion of the second volume of Batman Incorporated. 

Morrison began his work on the continuous Batman comic in 2006, bringing his quintessential style of incorporating (pun intended) vast ideologies and history to a character. 

With Batman he entertained the notion of past history and continuity applying to the oft gritty Dark Knight, while also adding his own bits and pieces to the Bat-Legacy. 

To be honest, I found his initial starting to be a bit intimidating. 

As mentioned Green Lantern by Geoff Johns was my first foray into DC territory. Batman to me was advertised as a character full of flashy camp (thank you Warner Bros. and Joel Schumacher) and some questionable relationships with his 'ward' (thanks to friends all around). Mind you I didn't have internet then, and neither did I know of the low-key release (in Kenya) of the rebooted Batman movie with Batman Begins.

I picked up Morrison's Batman in curiosity after having read the writers much more meta Animal Man run online (lets face it, there aren't many places to find comics in Kenya so most of my reading has been done for free, a topic for another day). 

Warning! 

To anyone wanting to begin Batman, don't pick up Morrison's run first!

Going through his work is a daunting task, and confusion is abundant as I realized. While Morrison's work may be the first worthy lengthy run of Batman I would suggest, it is rife with a lot of historical call backs to the caped crusaders continuity and requires a lot of prior knowledge to understand. 

But more so, it is confusing because of the themes and ideas the writer explores. Till this day I have no proper idea about...

...What the Fuck Zur-En-Arrh is????

Still as aforementioned, his work is the first lengthy run I would suggest readers wanting a taste of Batman the comic to explore. Although I would suggest a lot more Batman before you get into Morrison's work.

Till then let us examine and celebrate the legacy this wacky writer leaves on the...




Best Works

My Own copy of Grant Morrison's Batman: Arkham Asylum-A Serious House on Serious Earth, the 15th Anniversary Edition


By far Morrison's best work on Batman came prior to the start of his run in 2006. 

His work on both the seminal graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A serious house on serious Earth and five part story called 'Gothic' in The Legends of The Dark Knight Anthology is much more (IMO) interesting to read than his latter work with the caped crusader. 

First lets examine Arkham Asylum. This is a comic book I recently acquired although having read if multiple times before (see I still buy books that I have read for free, cause the writers deserve that much. Once again a topic for later).

The comic book explore Batman's psyche through his stay/mission within Arkham Asylum when a riot breaks down among the inmates and caretakers/guards. The inmates under Joker wish for Batman to join them in his rightful place.  

Batman preys witness to his memorable rogues gallery and how each has been psychologically changed through their own actions, his actions and the therapy within the Asylum. 

Parallel to Batman's fight inside Arkham runs the story of the beginning of the asylum itself. We are witness to the first patient within the tainted walls, the patient being one prior to the Asylum's formation itself. 

This story lies in the journals of the mad houses founder, none other than Amadeus Arkham. His story revolves around the care taking he provides to his mentally ill mother at Arkham Manor. His mother keeps on rambling of a mythical Bat creature that soon Amadeus sees himself, causing him to kill his mother and then repress the memories. 

Having witnessed the tragic fate dealt on his mother, Amadeus turns his deeply disturbing home into a much more deeply disturbing Asylum and falls victim to metality once an inmate rapes his wife and daughter. 

This tale can be chalked up as being dark for the sake of being dark and disturbing, but it really adds a lot of layers of intrigue to the history of Gotham as well as Batman. A subject Morrison is well versed at, as seen by his equally intriguing piece that is 'Gothic'.

*Plus the art within the pages of Arkham Asylum is spectacular*

Alongside Asylum, I consider Gothic to be Morrison's best Batman stories. Its quite a rare horror gem that you see used alongside mainstream superheroes. Batman can be said to be realistic, but unlike many of his iconic counterparts he fits the best in a supernatural/horror genre. 

Personally I would like to see a lot more horror stylized stories regarding the caped crusader, as they make him much more grounded/gritty than his realistic tech based adventures. 

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One of the most scariest Batman villains you'll meet


The story revolves around a villainous Mister Whisper taking down the Gotham criminal underworld that once tried to murder him, this Mister Whisper is a being who sold his soul to the devil for immortality. For the sake of this gift, Whisper is obligated to kill small boys and he does so gladly.

In actuality Whisper is also Bruce Wayne's former board school teacher and an earlier part of the traumatic experiences including the death of his friend Wayne witnesses prior to his parents own demise. 

This is the kind of crazy stories that sometimes appear in the Dark Knight continuity and provide interesting thrills. 

I would suggest anyone looking for a new outlook on the Dark Knight and a fix of superhero comics infused with horror genre to pick up these two. 

Hopefully somewhere in the future DC can collect 'Gothic' and other Legends of The Dark Knights tales into an Absolute Omnibus edition, since god knows most of those stories are awesome. 
 

Anyways onwards to the meat and bones of his run...


History

This is going to be quite a small section. I'm not going to bore most of you with the history of Grant Morrison's 7 year long run on the main title(s) of Batman. Instead here's a link to a comprehensive outlook written by iFanboy writer Jeff Reid; http://ifanboy.com/articles/dc-histories-grant-morrisons-batman/  

While he has differing opinions and knowledge regarding Morrison's work, he gets the detail of the run down to a tee even I obviously couldn't match. 
  
Now onto a major topic/character that formed through Morrison's run and has become a crux of the Batman mythos in the past 7 years...


Damian Wayne

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Not only does Damian Wayne become a better hero, but he makes Bruce a better father and person as well

There's no shadow of a doubt that this is the greatest legacy Grant Morrison leaves behind in the legends of Batman (albeit a dead legacy as of now). 

I believe I mentioned it before, but Morrison has a knack of calling back to a lot of past work within Batman that may not necessarily fit into continuity. Such a callback would be to the Batman: Son of the Demon graphic novel. 

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The initial out of continuity idea of Damian Wayne, in Batman: Son of the Demon by Mike Barr and Jerry Bingham

The comic is more renowned for Batman hooking up with vaunted enemy Ra's Al Ghuls daughter Talia than anything else in the story. In fact the ending clearly suggests a child born to the two estranged lovers, however writer Mike Barr and DC were quick to establish this piece as out of continuity. 

See that's why Grant Morrison is Grant Morrison for a reason. Bashing out the barriers of DC's own system and breaking through the structure of formed continuity that has kept the Caped Crusader only dark and gritty/realistic, Morrison left continuity wide open. He established any story to be a true part of the Dark Knight's history and legacy.

As such Damian Wayne was born (or brought back, if you want to get technical). 

Its to the creator and writers testament that Damian (who came in as a sort of spoiled boy and ass hole yet feisty and battle trained child) was made easily hate able and then turned into a truly compelling character worth rooting for and deserving of the mantle of Robin. 

This peaked with the most important Robin's tragic and heroic death at the hands of his own clone brother sent by his own vindictive and vicious Mother. 

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Damian is an example of how the long form writing of comics works so well, he came in as a hated character and turned into the most compelling and endearing piece of Morrison's Batman Puzzle

Indeed Damian for me personally had by then become a favorite among new age heroes in mainstream DC and Marvel continuity, good new heroes by these two companies are rarely hard to find. 

Not only the character become a vital Robin, but he also sought to humanize Batman/Bruce Wayne and give him another dimension....the characteristics of trying to be a Father.

Morrison really enhance the character or mask (according to Batman) that was 'Bruce Wayne'.

Although yes Bruce had legally become a father with the adoption of Tim Drake (his third Robin). Damian as his blood just presented a whole new level, especially considering he had been raised by the League of Shadows to usurp his fathers position. 

It presented a more caring Batman than before, and one who expected much more of everything especially discipline. 

Post the Batman and Son storyline though, Batman would be highly fixated on other issues notably The Black Glove Club. This would be an opportunity for Morrison to truly throw the doors wide open on Batman continuity...


Everything is Canon


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A lot of Batman's history was brought back and kept intact from his out there adventures in the 60's to his gritty duels in the 80's in the most plausible manner of course.


The need to revitalize Batman post his camp like era of the 60's gave way for Batman: Year One and Dark Knight Returns. Two tales that brought about a neo-noir and grit and grime side that Batman was known for among his Goth origins. Modernization meant that outside of the Justice League Batman faced realistic threats from his madhouse of villains and dark themes, tales would use his detective nature alongside his technology to create a modern noir masterpiece. 

Unfortunately that meant giving up the notions of his much more out of the world and wacky adventures that were remotely interesting. Batman in his loner form and true sense was a man not accustomed to the out of the ordinary and thus a much more relate-able hero than his godly and sci-fi infused counterparts. 

Once again since Morrison is Morrison he didn't care. While he might have given the horror/supernatural boost, Morrison also brought back the 'Super' within Batman and reminded us that his history is what made the character popular in the first place. 

As such everything was wide open and part of the Caped Crusader's life apart from a few chinks such as his Earth 2 marriage to Catwoman. That was still part of an alternate reality.

Morrison however would have tread carefully and establish this continuity in an understandable manner that established its non-referencing through history between when those adventures were abolished to now.

Thus came another piece of Batman lore; The Black Casebook. A book that acknowledges everything weird within Batman. 

This helped explain the Dr. Hurt situation and a lot more. Check the history link or read the books to understand that. 

It also brought back other things such as the original Batwoman (Kathy Kane), Bat-Mite and a supposedly prior established Club of Heroes (Bat inspired heroes around the world).

All this can relate to the visual imagery that Morrison's Batman run establishes.

The circle is a vital element within the run, as such in this case the circle represents Batman going back round to his beginnings. In a sense this means going back around to all that made him who he is, basically his history. I'll analyze more of the circle later. 

But big dealings with The Black Glove and Damian had to wait, since Batman was headed somewhere else in the wider scope of the DC Universe...


Batman RIP

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Batman's 'death' as depicted in Final Crisis. It was fitting that Grant Morrison for the time being would end his first act of his run with Batman dead committing a heroic dead amongst the Justice League. Morrison established Batman as a hero from his JLA times.

The name of a very confusing and disappointing (at least in its conclusion) story from Morrison's run. 

RIP established that while Hurt and his cohorts may have beaten the Batman, the character however is essentially a fighter and survivor. He is in fact a form of the ultimate human, Batman changes the trigger code of 'Zur-En-Arrh' to his advantage (this bit I am explaining through the views of other readers, since I haven' truly grasped what its about) creating a backup Batman. 

If this is truly what Morrison meant to establish with Batman being one step ahead, than I am disappointed. Not even a great mind as Batman can hope to salvage himself from such situations of extremity.

Yes I like that he was more superhero than realistic detective, but Batman cannot go so as far as being this prepared. There still needs to be a sense of reality and a point of limitations to how far Batman can go and as such Batman Inc was by far a better product by Morrison. Something to talk about later. 

So Batman didn't die...but he eventually did or did he?

Yes, I know its confusing but welcome to comics.

So while Black Glove didn't kill him, Darkseid in Final Crisis presumably did (I haven't read FC, so I don't know the proper story of how he "died"). In truth Bruce Wayne was hurtled through time thus creating the history of Batman and giving it a new meaning.

But more important than that was the need for a new Batman. Gotham and its citizens would always require their Dark Knight, villains would always need to fear the Caped Crusader.

So in comes in...


The Best Batman

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Dick Grayson finally completes his journey and establishes his legacy with everything coming full circle, circle being an important aspect of Morrison's run as discussed below. 

Yes you read the title right, Bruce's successor Dick Grayson/Nightwing (the original Robin) is by far the better Batman according to me.

Why?

For starters, Grant Morrison wrote much better and simpler comic book stories with the character. Not to forget that this was the Batman with which Scott Snyder began his acclaimed stop-start (due to New 52 changes) run. 

But most importantly, the former Robin had learned everything from his mentor and had learned to not make the mistakes Bruce didn't. Under the cowl, Grayson became a much more formidable force as a hero and for good. 

Unlike Bruce, Dick has learned to let go of the tragic death of his parents (for those who don't know; Dick Grayson was a part of the circus group The Flying Graysons. The Graysons were murdered during their act by Tony Zucco's thugs).

Not only that, but it was Dick who initially sets Damian Wayne to a path of becoming a hero and better appealing to his father's legacy/wishes by making him his Robin. Sometime I personally doubt Bruce Wayne would have been able to do, knowing the character.

In turn he does tick off the previous Robin (Tim Drake), but he does so because he believes Drake is his equal and as such it would not be fair to put him in the position of side-kick. 

In conclusion; unlike Bruce, Dick as Batman doesn't hide everything from his partners and trusts them to be the best with their abilities allowing them to learn and grow. Prior to Morrison's run Batman was known as being secretive and a loner but Dick becomes much more open and is emotionally invested with his team mates (even from the Justice League).

All this coupled with the fact that Grayson also handles Wayne Industries perfectly in my eyes makes him the much better Batman and it was sad that the New 52 meant that we couldn't see Dick handle the cowl for a longer period. 

The cherry on top is Bruce's own approval of Dick as Batman, that he lets him continue being the protector of Gotham while he himself begins a new project all together...


Batman INC

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Every adaptation of Batman has thematically revolved around the struggle of the man's two sides and the actual mask of Bruce Wayne that covers the reality that is Batman. With Inc, Morrison took a step further in abolishing or twisting this idea in favor of noting that the two sides are one in the same.

If you read the history of Grant Morrison's Batman (link provided above) then you know the Bruce doesn't die but hurtles through time and in fact provides the method for the beginning of his own legend.

It not only shows that Bruce was never alone, but Batman has never been alone. As such when he returns, the hero decides to expand his family to new corners. Thus comes the birth of Batman Incorporated. 

The first step? A change to Bruce Wayne.

Wayne has been able to secure his identity as the caped crusader, by simply being a bum and a playboy living off his trust fund and family money. 

With Inc, Morrison finally debunked that myth and made Bruce Wayne as heroic as his counterpart. This brought the notion of the mask (Bruce) and the real man (Batman) theme explored by lots of writers to a close. 

Wayne reveals that he has been behind Batman for a long time and is now operating Batman's heroism on a global scale. What helps is that Bruce can be seen alongside Batman (Dick) at the same time so as to avoid the revelation of his secret. 

Thus with Bruce Wayne becoming a public figure to rally under and be inspired by, the Batman Incorporation is born. 

Using the setup established by his former copy cats from the Club of Superheroes (a club of Batman imitators from around the world and a part of Batman's golden/silver age history), Batman plants different Batmen/heroes to protect their cities around the world under the Inc. 

Inc forms the epitome of Morrison's work on the character and leaves another major plot point for writers to exploit in the future.


But the Inc faces a major all round threat that promises to destroy Batman and his friends not to mention his son...


Leviathan and The Imagery of The Circle

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A complex symbol and imagery that I hope to analyze further within the Bat-Universe


Leviathan is the organization led by Talia Al Ghul that wishes to destroy Batman and usurp his brand of justice. Their symbol is the Oroboro, the snake that eats itself. 

Morrison alongside with his artists uses this as a framework for a lot of circular imagery that is littered through his work. The Oroboro itself symbolizes the return to the beginning, in fact it means the rebirth anew from the end like the Phoenix. 

All this highlights Morrison's ending returning back to the beginnings of his seminal run on Batman. As mentioned, Morrison's major run began with Damian's struggle between his mother and father. As such his run ends with the struggle between both Talia and Batman all connected to Damian, who by now is dead.   

Another way the circle imagery can be interpreted is through the symbolism of Batman himself. The circle symbolizes that Batman the hero (since Morrison re-invigorated this role from Batman the vigilante), is infinite. 

No matter what struggle, or death; Batman will always be there. Hints of this were alluded to, when Morrison had Bruce Wayne supposedly killed off in Final Crisis, even then Batman lived on. While it took some time, every member of the Bat-Family including the deranged Joker and the misguided Jason Todd/Red Hood knew that Batman was a necessity. So then Dick Grayson picked up the mantle, cause the symbol of the Batman had to go on and it had to go on in a true manor that respected the heroic cowl's necessity.  

This effect was so profound, that it even formed the over arching theme within Christopher Nolan's influential Dark Knight trilogy. 

But not just death but the image of death and resurrection proves the symbol of Oroboro truly fits Batman and to lesser extent Robin (Damian) himself. It was the most impact full moment of his run, when this happened. 

Morrison stating this, alluded to the aforementioned point. Ironically though both Batman and Robin do die through his run, yet the Phoenix still prevails. Where as mentioned Batman continues, Bruce Wayne returns and that to constantly through history. Robin may be dead, but being the grandson of a certain Demon villain with a resurrection pit; he is bound to come back. Not to mention that his slated to be both the future Batman of a much more dead Gotham, and that his grave was mysteriously empty by the end of the Batman Inc. final. 


Best of Morrison

Putting this into simpler terms, so what was best about Morrison's Batman run.

-Batman as a hero. By the late 90's to mid 00's, Batman had gone so off the dark radar that he was practically more than just a vigilante, the concept of his heroism was ill defined. In his Justice League, Morrison gradually brought Batman the hero back and he continued to do so in his Batman run. 

-Talia, the true Al Ghul. She's been a character whose always conflicted in her allegiance to her father's cause and her 'beloved'. So when Leviathan was revealed to be in her control, you couldn't help but cheer. Rather than choosing one of the men, she disregarded both an became a much more powerful and vicious character than ever. 

-Under the Cowl. It was a moment of resolution for anyone who has followed the journey Dick Grayson, the symbol of sidekicks in comics and possibly a reflection of what Bruce can be if he just lets go. Not only is Dick, the proof of both Bruce and Alfred's success in raising someone beyond the darker past the two share regarding Batman's original birth (The Death of the Waynes at Crime Alley) but he is also the overall light in the saga of the dark knight. If only he had stayed as Batman longer. 

-Damian. Simply put, Grant Morrison's greatest contribution to the Batman myths.

-Accepting History. Beyond retcons and reboots, and ironically a run that went further than DC's most important reconfiguration; The New 52. Grant Morrison made Batman's history complete and did so in a fashion keeping within character. If it weren't for the divisive funky Batman 60's we wouldn't have gotten Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams re-tooled Batman 70's, then we wouldn't have had the true origins of Batman in Year One. 

Altogether Morrison made the audience and specifically the character accept every facet of who he is. Everything we love about the icon and even somethings we hate. 


Morrison's is the first major extensive run on Batman that I read, and it's a vital part of my growth as a comics fan, writer, artist and more importantly Batmaniac (yep I'm starting a new word!). 


Side Note: There's also the major idea of Joker being an entity of multiple personalities that Morrison established in Arkham Asylum. I will explore this further since it has such a wide scope. 


'Nuff Said

Aneesh Raikundalia    

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