Hello, and welcome to the Bat Casebook, where I take the newest Bat-Comics that came out that week and review them for you. Apologies for the brief hiatus, but I just KNEW I had to do one this week, with the release of the big, humongous, milestone issue that is…Batgirl #11! Oh, and Batman #700, too.
Written by Grant Morrison
Story Art by Tony Daniel, Frank Quitely, Scott Kolins, and David Finch
Pin-Up Art by Shane Davis, Juan Doe, Guilliem March, Dusty Nugyen, Tim Sale, Bill Seinklewicz, Phillip Tan, & Freddie Williams II
Covers by David Finch and Mike Mignola
So yeah…best Batman book of the year, or bestest Batman book of the year? Seriously, I had really high expectations for this issue, and while there were a few disappointments, specifically with some of the art, and I kinda had to read through it a few times to fully comprehend the whole story, those expectations were most definitely met. I’m going to try to review these by their segments:
This starts with Bruce Wayne, seemingly in Ancient Egypt, being chased by winged Egyptian warriors, in a sequence that will likely make at least one host of the fine show that hosts this column very happy. We cut back into reality, Gotham City, in the basement of eccentric inventor Professor Carter Nichols, as Bruce, Dick, and Catwoman, each in their silver-age/TV show outfits, have had their consciousness sent through time to steal a priceless Egyptian artifact (cat-themed, of course). We quickly find out that before Batman and Robin got there, the team of the aforementioned Catwoman, Joker, Riddler, Scarecrow, and an impostor Mad Hatter had captured Nichols and are using the machine and Batman to steal priceless artifacts before they’re valuable, and Joker’s plan, as he’s written in the Joker’s Jokebook, is to send Batman to the moment of his parent’s death and stop the killer, thus undoing himself.
The Dynamic Duo’s eventually able to break their bonds and they start fighting the crew, until Gordon and a crew of cops burst in and apprehend the group, calling it the “biggest Popcrime bust since the Two-Face/Clayface/No-Face/Falseface team” (that story is one I NEED to see, BTW). Batman and Robin are informed by Gordon that he got an inside tip from Nichols, even though he had been in front of them the whole time. Nichols profusely apologizes, and says that he’s going to find a way to fix things…
What I liked about this segment was that it felt like an amazing mix of the “New Look” era of comics and the TV show (including a really metal version of the show Batmobile that looked really cool), while still feeling very modern and contemporary. You also get the feeling that this is last of the “pop-crime” 60s era of Batman’s career, especially from Joker going back and forth between goofy criminal to hardcore psychotic, and Batman telling Riddler not to call him a “caped crusader.” Overall this segment is a really good example of using continuity as a tool rather as a deterrent. For example–the Mad Hatter in this issue.
When I was first reading this, I just assumed it was ole’ Jarvis Tetch. I know Morrison made him as a creepy, hookah-smoking pederast who fancied himself the actual Mad Hatter from Lewis Carrol’s tale back in ’88 in Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, but I just thought this slightly saner, epically-mustached criminal who took on the personality of whatever hat he wore was a revamp on his character. Turns out he was a completely different guy, who took on the name while Tetch was in Arkham. He appeared in Detective Comics #230 in April 1956 and stayed around until around the late 70s, when Tetch returned–putting him just about the same time as where this story would take place. It’s one of those things where it’s kind-of interesting, and if you didn’t know that, you could read through it easily enough, but if you did, all the better.
The art is also really good–it was trippy, seeing the really 90s influenced Tony Daniel drawing these characters EXACTLY from this time period, up to Batman’s cowl having the nose and brow features that looked like they were put in with a white marker. While I really would have loved if an artist with a more 60s pop art style did it–imagine David Allred doing these pages and try to tell me you wouldn’t WANT–he did a pretty good job.
Dick and Damian, the current Batman and Robin, walk town the stairs to Nichol’s basement labatory, just like it was years ago–except that Nichols is dead in his chair, with a mysterious hole in his chest, no weapon, and looks at least 20 years older then he should be. Dick and Damian talk about it as they fly out to the infamous Park Row, where Dick is laying down a black wreath at the spot where Thomas and Martha Wayne died; it’s the anniversary, and since Bruce isn’t there to honor it, Dick does it for him. They’re interrupted as a couple are running away from a group of riled up members of the Mutant Gang–first appearance of them in-continuity, I believe–and Batman and Robin make quick work taking them down. They’re greeted by pimp named Lone-Eye Lincoln (a character Bruce encountered during his “strung-out” phase in RIP), who gets one of his prostitutes to tell how Mr. Freeze, while…ahem…consorting with him, slipped where and when an underworld auction was being held.
After that, we see the rest of their patrol–including an awesome panel where they’re chillaxin’, drinking coffee and eating pizza–until the auction starts (hosted by the fake Mad Hatter we saw in Yesterday, now calling himself Hatman), selling the infamous Jokebook from earlier, and they crash it. Afterwards, Damian’s doing his little bragging thing, saying that he’s going to figure out who killed Nichols and prove he’d make a better Batman than Dick. However, Dick quickly pwns the little kid by saying he’s already figured out, and tells Damian it was suicide. Damian doesn’t understand, and Dick tells Damian that when he does, he’ll be good enough to be Batman.
What I really loved about this segment was getting to see Frank Quitely interiors again. While there have been a lot of great artists during this “era” of Batman’s history, no one else has been able to just own this Dynamic Duo as well as Quitely. From the action, to the character interactions, and to the mystery and intrigue and mundanity, this was an amazing short, and probably would have been the highlight of the issue…except.
The problem with this segment is that Quitely doesn’t do all the pages, and the last three are done by Scott Kolins. Now, from what I understand, Quitely’s been having a lot of problems lately with his back, which is why he’s only been able to do covers up until this point, and I don’t really blame him at all for it. I can also see why they chose Kolins, to a certain extent–his sketchy style is semi-comparable with Quitely’s. My question is–why didn’t they do what they did with Batman & Robin #12, and have someone do the layouts, and then attempt to finish in Quitely’s style?
The fact that Quitely didn’t finish the work isn’t the problem–he’s more than likely still in recovery and tried to finish as much as he could in time, but that these stories were supposed to have a clearly different art style for each period, and having two obviously different art styles in the same story messes with the format. But, what’s done is done, and I’m glad I got to see more Quitely Batman & Robin, in any case.
We start with Damian as Batman, dragging the villainous Max Roboto through the air on his Bat-ATV. Oh Damian–don’t you ever change. We find out through his monologue and interrogation of Max that a crazed killer calling himself January has had Max reprogram Gotham’s Climate Control machines to emit Joker Venom to be transmitted through the city by rain; and if January doesn’t get Joker’s infamous Joke Book (a book that’s appeared in small ways in both previous chapters) by midnight, he’ll turn all of Gotham into laughing Jokerzombies. When pressed for info, Max spits in Batman’s face, and he leaves Max to have his meat-bits eaten by mutant rats.
Damian uses the spit from Roboto to create an antidote, which he sends over to Commissioner Barbara Gordon to help the people already infected. Batman cuts through the sewers, to find some cops who seemed to have been messed up on Monster Venom and whatever chemicals created Joker. Damian calls for back-up, in the form of an orbiting satellite named Brother-I, who take out the cops and Batman makes it to, yet again, the old house of Professor Carter Nichols.
Batman is greeted by 2-Face-2, who’s sitting next to an old Nichols, and holding a Jokerized baby on his lap. Batman give 2-Face-2 the Joke Book, and 2-Face-2 attacks with Roboto’s laser-shooting eye that he traded in for the cure, and Batman retaliates by pulling down what looks like a massive piece of lab equipment, landing on 2-Face 2, both the Baby and the older Nichols fine. They’re encountered by the younger Professor Nichols, who kills his older self with the laser eye, and sends the body to Today and presumably goes back to Yesterday to make the phone-call to the police. Damian recovers the baby, telling Gordon through his communicator to tell the McGinnis family that their child his safe, gives him the cure to the Joker formula, and walks away from the now burning house.
So, this was a great story, with an intriguing villain in 2-Face-2, and a great scheme in the Joker rain–each taking their original and taking the logical next step while infusing it with some freaky sci-fi. The Terry cameo was also really cool, but I’ll get to that in a paragraph or so. Kubert’s art is also gorgeous–but again, the art is the main problem in this story. Not so much the art itself but a really bad mistake. In the page where we meet 2-Face-2 for the first time, the older Nichols is sitting next to him, clearly dead, with the hole in his chest. But, the very next two pages features the whole plot of the younger Nichols to kill the older, getting the laser to do so with, and we even see the older Nichols suddenly alive and talking for one panel. I don’t know if Morrison’s script wasn’t completely clear on that matter, or if Kubert didn’t understand that either way, but it is a really bad art error–hopefully if or when this story is traded, they’ll fix that.
There’s not a lot of “plot” to this, so I’ll just talk about it. First page with Terry McGinnis as Batman with who we assume is Damian training him was really cool, and an interesting way to put Batman Beyond more ore less “in continuity,” or at least as in-continuity as possible futures can be. The next page, where Batman and Robin are fighting against our future robot overlords the robot army of Fura is another example of “obscure continuity used in awesome ways,” taking the concept of the Batman & Robin of the Year 3000 and making it contemporary. The next page I’m not really sure of, other than it’s a future Batman sometime after the year 3000, where chemicals are regularly pumped into people to make them complacent, but being countered by the Anti-Utopian Army, and a Batman is flying away. I don’t know what’s going on, or which side this Batman is on, but I’d really like to find out. Finally, we see the Batman of the 853rd. Century, along with his robot Robin, fighting what seems to be robot clowns. Finally, we cut back to Today, where Comissoner Gordon is shining the Bat-Signal, and Batman and Robin are on their way.
Again, there’s not a lot of “story” to this segment, but what it does is cement a point, specifically with the caption boxes: “No matter when. No matter where. No matter how dark.” You can figure out the rest.
After that, we get some cool Batman pin-ups. Some of them, specifically Nguyen’s two pin-ups seem to be unused covers, but still cool to see. Finally, we get what looks like a diagram of the Batcave, designed by Freddie Williams II. Nothin’ really deep about them, just kinda cool to see.
Overall, I’d have to say I really enjoyed this issue. It’s not perfect by any means, but what it does well it does extraordinarily well. Morrison tells an amazing story spanning the ages, and the art, fill-in or not, was all solid at their absolute worst. It would have been cool to see some more artists that really pushed the envelope, but everyone involved did some great work. The pros far outweigh the cons for me, and, like the story said at the end, here’s to 700 more.
Written by Bryan Q. Miller
Penciled by Lee Garbett & Pere Perez
Inked by Walden Wong & Pere Perez
Colored by Guy Major
Cover by Stanley “Artgerm Lau
We start with Barbara Gordon waking up from a bad dream. She walks down to meet Dick, Tim, Damian and James Gordon who appear to be in perfect suburban bliss. However, it starts to break when Barbara sees Stephanie in her Batgirl costume driving a motorcycle through the street, and is busted when she opens the front door to find the Calculator outside, with the standard clothing and accessories for a The Killing Joke reference. We cut back to reality, where we see Calculator gloating over Barbara’s defeat, as she’s covered in frozen carbonite techno-vomit, and Calculator takes a gadget out so that he can go into her mind.
Meanwhile, Steph is trying to fight Catwoman, Huntress, and Man-Bat, who’ve been infected by, well, the techno-organic virus, when she gets a call from Wendy, who helps her with intel and finds a way to track her “jackass dad,” as Steph inadvertently puts it, to his location in Slaughter Swamp. Meanwhile, in Barbara’s mind, she’s in a sort-of library of her mind when she’s attacked by Calculator, who’s pushed his way into her head. The two fight for a bit, before Barbara realizes that if he can get into her mind, she can get into his, and she pushes them both in.
Steph gets on Man-Bat’s back and flies around to an airstrip, where Wendy has tracked her and followed using Steph’s…batpod thingy. Steph incompacitates Man-Bat, and her and Wendy find a plane to get on to get away from the other techno-zombies and Wendy flies Steph to Calculator’s location, and we end this issue with Batgirl taking a parachute and jumping from mid-air down to Slaughter Swamp to save Barbara and stop Calculator’s scheme.
So, this was another solid issue. It’s actually kinda sad that it came out this week, since Batman #700 really overshadowed it. But the story was great–it seems more and more likely that Barbara’s going to step down as Stephanie’s advisor in favor of Wendy, and if these few pages with the two interacting are any indication, there should still be a fun, quirky relationship to grab onto. The art was also really solid. There was apparantly also a fill-in artist, but I didn’t notice anything when I was reading it. Overall, it was a really good issue, and I can’t wait to see the conclusion.
And that’s all we have for this week–heh, that’s all, Batman #700 itself is probably the size of my usual column. Next week we’ll apparently continue DC’s Terry-paloza, because we have Batman Beyond #1, as well as Birds of Prey #2, Azrael #9, Joker’s Asylum: Harley Quinn, and Joker’s Asylum: Mad Hatter.