Thursday, May 21, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: Batman R.I.P. and Heart of Hush

So, DC has decided once again to remove Bruce Wayne from play. Unlike the nineties attempt at the storyline, Knightfall, we are actually claiming to have killed the Batman instead of just crippling him.

The thing that amazes me most is that we have done the Last Batman Story before (thought even it had a sequel). I cannot think of a better end to Batman’s story than The Dark Knight Returns, but it doesn’t look like DC cares to do things that way.

Like I mentioned in my review of the Umbrella Academy, Grant Morrison is a talented writer with an inability to reign himself in. His editors don’t seem to care to do so either, and it often leaves his storytelling rather incoherent. His run on Batman has been rather bland, with only the “Club of Heroes” storyline shining through the dullness. His obsession with integrating seventy years of continuity in to Batman’s history oftern supplants good stories and it showed in the book. It is sort of like Alan Moore’s Supreme with all the quality drained free.

So when we get in to “Batman: R.I.P.” it should be a surprise to no one that the continuity bits go in to overdrive. We get dozens of obscure villains, references to the most obscure of Batman tales, and a hero that spends most of the storyline tripping on a poisonous psychedelic. And through most of it, as a reader I honestly could not buy most of the issues Bats dealt with as any kind of problem. Not as he is normally portrayed. Morrison ignores that characterization in favor of his own psychotropic form of story. The revelations that come in the story are uninspiring and even Batman’s final fate seems weak. Of course, his story continues in Final Crisis, a story that makes “R.I.P.” look like Goodnight Moon in terms of complexity.

The book’s only real saving grace is art by Tony Daniel, but even he doesn’t quite fire on all cylinders. The art often feels like he is trying way to hard to ape the art style of Ethan Van Sciver. Batman deserves so much better than this. Not Recommended.

We get something a little better in the form of Paul Dini’s “R.I.P.” tie-in, Detective Comics’ “Heart of Hush”. “Heart of Hush” not only gives us a creditable, understandable plot and threat to Batman and Catwoman, it also takes a mess of a villain and finally makes him the threat he deserves. After meandering around the Bat-universe with no purpose, Thomas “Hush” Elliott finally realizes his place as a big name Bat-villain. And all it took was some open heart surgery on Catwoman.

Dustin Nguyen has been flitting about the Bat-verse for quite some time now, but he really shines on these pages. I’m sure his art style is not everyone’s cup of tea, but he combines the right level of Jim Lee-style cool with an Alex Maleev kind of grit to make a style uniquely suited for Batman.

While it would by no means work as “The Last Batman Story”, “Heart of Hush” definitely pushes the Bat-universe forward in an understandable and entertaining way, and sets up an important storyline for the post-Bruce Wayne era of Batman. Recommended.

What I take away from the supposed final stories of Bruce Wayne is quite simple. DC is barking up the wrong tree when it looks at who should be the architect of the Batman titles. Clearly, Paul Dini is far and away more prepared to take the books in a positive direction. Instead he will soon be writing Bat-periphery books, albeit two of them. While Morrison will get the new flagship title Batman & Robin, you will see Dini on both Streets of Gotham (where you can expect to see Hush) and Gotham City Sirens (starring Catwoman & Harley Quinn!) My suggestion: skip over Morrison’s work and go straight for Dini’s titles. Even without Batman, his titles are sure to give more of that Gotham City grit we all new and loved from his Batman the Animated Series. Not to mention cohesive, engaging, entertaining stories. And what more can you ask for in a good comic?

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