Grids of Gotham: My Reviews of Grant Morrison's Bat-Epic - Part I: Batman and Son

Sibling rivalry.


Look, I love Batman. I'm 31 years old and I've been reading Batman comics most of my life, and I've read a great deal of them, decades worth, just within the past few years. I have a pretty respectable collection of Batman collected editions, from trade collections to original graphic novels. I've seen all the movies, watched most of the TV shows, and I've reviewed 51 issues of Batman Eternal (with the final issue to come next week) for my blog. Aside from Japanese animation, and maybe James Bond, my big fictional preoccupation is the Caped Crusader, the Dark Knight, the World's Greatest Detective. I know my Batman.


So when I make the following statement, I make it with quite a lot of experience under my belt, and I don't want to come off as somebody trying desperately to be controversial or an iconoclast about this matter. Well, here goes:


Grant Morrison's years-long run on Batman is kind of the worst run I've ever read. Besides merely being massively overrated, it's almost gleefully hateful towards the Batman mythos, even while it's claimed to be a celebration of it. It isn't just poorly constructed, but even the general ideas of it are poorly-conceived on a basic level and show a disregard for both continuity and tone.


Now I've struggled with some Batman runs before. Most of the late Golden Age to late Silver Age Batman is either unreadable from a pure storytelling perspective or tonal incongruity with the subject. Judd Winick, Larry Hama, and Andersen Gabrych have been tough to grit my teeth through. Don't get me started on Bob Haney (though Jim Aparo's art often elevated it). I've read decades worth of this stuff, so bare with me if I sound like I'm just name-dropping. But none of them have boiled my blood like Grant Morrison's run did on a regular basis.


Just so that I'm not entirely condemning, I have a certain admiration for Grant Morrison's ambition. He's always striving to break the status quo and take the characters he tackles to some new level, and the medium itself to a higher, more thought-provoking, almost avante garde, intellectual plane. He really wants you to look at sequential art in ways that break the mold of regular comic book stories. He wants to shape the things he writes about into some great new creature.


But, and excuse my conservatism about this, I have no use for this. Not that I want everything to remain at status quo per se, but Morrison isn't even really interested in writing Batman stories. And for all his wanting to change the Bat books, he's really just trying to fit the Batman mythos into the mold of his overarching mythology, his reoccurring cosmology, and will uproot everything the books spent decades achieving just so that he can make Batman "his" with only lip service to what he is.


That, and his storytelling is too abstract for my tastes. I just want to read a Batman story, not Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler. Save that postmodern masturbation for your original works or non-canon stories and leave writing about the guy who dresses up like a bat to punch the mentally ill to people who want to write about that. I'm not saying Batman stories can't be smart, but it's not meant to be a fucking Jackson Pollock gallery. Maybe that shit flies in books about characters nobody's ever given a shit about like Doom Patrol or Animal Man, but this Batman, bud, the wheel doesn't need reinventing.



Fortunately, our long journey into Morrison's "Bat-epic" begins a bit more traditionally, albeit already showing scenes of Morrison's frantic, breathless comic style, with the story that maybe made me the angriest when I first heard about it. I say "heard about it" because for a while in the mid aughts I stopped reading Batman comics on a regular basis. I just wasn't very interested in it anymore, because of that "bringing Jason Todd back to life" bullshit, and while I did enjoy the Infinite Crisis and 52 events, I mostly stayed out of the regular books.


Suddenly, I heard Batman had a son! A son named Damian. Bruce Wayne had fathered a son named Damian Wayne with his nemesis/lover Talia Ghul, and the son was a super genius and master assassin fighter who easily bests Robin, and will some day surely become the next Batman. This, after more than a decade of DC assuring us that Timothy Drake, the detective Robin, would inherit the cowl. Well, none of that matters now, because Damian Wayne easily kicked Tim's ass and in a book set in the future, he's Batman!


As soon as my eyes regenerated from having burned out of my skull from the utter rage I felt reading about that, I decided to start reading the first story of this new young fanfiction character... I mean, hero. After all, technically all characters in the Batman mythos who weren't thought up by Bill Finger are fanfiction characters, and maybe I was just looking at this the wrong way.


So, Batman and Son, the beginning of Grant Morrison's years long domination of the Batman books.


Our story begins with Batman shooting Joker in the face! Batman! With a gun! Shooting Joker! Well, actually, it's not really Batman. It's some nut job cop who must've broken under the pressure of being in law enforcement in Gotham. Joker survives his wound, but becomes a little different because of it later on.


And IIIIIIII will always love youuuuuuuuuu...


Sometime later, Bruce Wayne, at a museum for a fundraiser, is attacked by Ninja Man-Bats, the typical Saturday for our hero. He suits up and fights them, but despite his best efforts, he's overpowered and brought before the person behind the attack: Talia Ghul. After her father's death (at the hands of her sister Nyssa, who was subsequently blown up by a brainwashed Cassandra Cain... long story), Talia took up his leadership rule in the League of Assassins, and Talia is embracing the full-time villain lifestyle rigorously.


But she's not alone. After recalling the events of Mike W. Barr's Son of the Demon, an (until then) non-canon story wherein Bruce and Talia marry and he impregnates her, Talia introduces Batman to his son, Damian, who's been trained to someday lead the League of Assassins, no doubt.


"And I imagined you as non-canon."


I sense this needs a little more explanation, so that you can fully experience my frustration. For one, in Son of the Demon, Bruce and Talia both consent to baby-making intercourse. Talia feigns a miscarriage later on and, presumably to keep the child away from their dangerous, tragic lifestyle. He was given away to a kindly couple somewhere, never to be seen again. But, of course, this is comics, and DC can't leave well enough alone, now can they? So Morrison weaves his version of events, where Talia drugged Bruce, had her way with him until she was preggers, pooped out Damian, and trained him to be an ice cold killer. So what's her ingenious scheme that only begins with her introducing her son to his father after many years?


Nanananananananana... Bat-rape!


Why, just leaving the kid with him. And Batman, not really aghast at this turn of events, just takes him to the Batcave.


"Turn down service is available."


Timothy Drake, at this point still Robin, and still relevant to the DC universe, arrives in the Batcave with his usual aplomb, and is curious as to Bruce's new found son. Batman, naturally, having just discovered that after being raped, the product of his rape is a trained killer, just shrugs this off like it ain't no thang. Seriously, Batman is completely nonplussed by finding out he has a son by the leader of an assassin guild. And that the son has been brought up by his villainous mother, whom Batman has encountered several times since without it coming up, who's been grooming him to take over for her. Batman has plenty of space in the cave for all the fucks he doesn't give.


R.I.P., Tim Drake as a Character (1989-2006)



Where was I? Oh yes, Tim Drake. Tim, Tim, Tim... you poor bastard. At this point, Tim recently lost his father in the horrible Identity Crisis event, having lost his mother years earlier. He's been officially adopted by Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne has two sons already before Damian appears, with Tim and Dick Grayson (Nightwing). He even has a daughter in Cassandra Cain. But here comes his biological son, Morrison's pet character, to send the wonderful message that adopted kids don't mean shit, motherfucker!


Look for Lies This Comic Told Me by Penguin Truth this summer from Harper Collins


Damian, wanting to be useful to his father, decides to go out and "fight crime". But unfortunately for the criminal element, Damian's version of crime fighting is decapitating some guy, coming back to the Batcave, and beating the shit out of Tim Drake for not applauding his efforts. This new kid, this character who just came in, beats Tim half to death with a few hits, and brags about it to his father.


So did good taste.


This is exactly what happened, by the way.


Quite the incorrigible scamp, wouldn't you say?


Naturally, Batman does nothing about any of this. Well, he does manage to raise his voice, but doesn't, for instance, punch the little shit in the soul and have him locked up in Arkham with all the other maniacs. Nope, he's his SON, his BIOLOGICAL SON, so he deserves all the chances in the world.


Fuck adopted kids, right, Grant? (Or fuck YOU, is more like it, you maniac.)


Batman's passions cool when Damian reveals that Talia is looking to take over Gibraltar. The scheme is pretty irrelevant, just know that Batman easily foils it, with the help of Damian. Talia gives her stock, "Join me, Batman... join me and your son, and together we'll rule the world." Blah blah blah. It'll interest you to know that Damian was originally intended to die at the end of this story arc, just a footnote tying up the loose end of Barr's story.


"'The Aristocrats' style."


Talia's plans are torpedoed, along with Talia herself, and Damian, but we'll see more of them later on. Unfortunately.


Well, let's see, what can I say about this story arc? Well, for one, it just jumps from one plot point to another, unnaturally, with no care to the previous scene, or for continuity, or for anything, really. It's garbage through and through. Not only does it send the message that, essentially, rape is something you can just get over really quickly, as long as you're Batman, but that adopted children are inferior to their parents than biological children to them. Damian is given every due consideration despite being a murderous brat. Batman was harder on Jason Todd for maybe killing a guy. But Jason Todd wasn't blood, so I guess Damian gets a pass. And that's all Damian really is, at least for quite a long time: Jason Todd 2.0.


Isn't one Jason Todd enough?


Or too much?


Next: The Clown At Midnight!


- Penguin Truth

From Batman Vol 1 #655-658 (September-December 2006)

Writer: Grant Morrison
Penciler: Andy Kubert
Inkers: Andy Kubert, Jesse Delperdang
Colors: Dave Stewart, Guy Major
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano, Rob Leigh
Editors: Peter Tomasi, Michael Siglain
Batman was created by Bill Finger and some guy who retraced stuff from The Shadow.


Tim Drake, Robin with a long-running solo title, traveled the world training, the master detective, the Robin said to be the one who will most likely become the next Batman... and his replacement, the Gary Stu character who just showed up.


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