So, I’ve been promising to write about Grant Morrison’s Batman run for quite a while, and the things I have to say have just been getting longer and longer. And then the first of the Last Rites issues comes out and it becomes apparent that the whole story has just been leading to Batman’s part in Final Crisis and everything becomes even longer. So consider this the first of a series of posts that may well continue at least until Final Crisis has finished, looking both at the Bat-books post Infinite Crisis and at Final Crisis – as well as looking at some other comics that have relevance to these.
Before we start, I just want to echo amypoodle’s post on Final Crisis. I think these comics are *great*, some of the best superhero comics ever written, and if you don’t agree you are, objectively, wrong. I can prove it. I have graphs.
I do think, though, that Morrison’s Batman has been less successful than Final Crisis – partly because of the artists (who, with the exception of the always-wonderful J.H. Williams III, have ranged from the competent to the incompetent, never touching ‘good’), and partly because, as my friend Tilt put it a while back “It’s like if the Beatles made Sgt Pepper, but only after ten years of everyone making Their Satanic Majesties Request“. The Batman-facing-the-worst-foe-ever-and-getting-broken-by-it storyline is one we’ve seen so many times before that even though Morrison’s doing it better than anyone else, the story still sagged a little in the middle just because of its similarity to other stories (roughly the couple of issues before the appearance of Bat-Mite, when everything went all Morrison). Having said that, it’s still the best run on Batman I’ve ever read, by a very long way.
I want to look at every aspect of these stories, and also as far as possible at what the creative process was and to what extent these works have been shaped by editorial diktat rather than the ideas of the writer. I think that any honest assessment of these comics has to take those factors into account, bearing in mind the widespread rumours of disagreement between Morrison and the editorial teams he has been working with, and the extraordinarily non-committal statements those editors have made (along with Morrison’s virtual absence from any publicity for his recent work – odd, given that he is one of the most publicly visible comic creators).
One of the standard phrases that comes into pretty much every internet critique of Morrison’s run on Batman is ‘except for the editorially-mandated Resurrection of Ra’s Al-Ghul crossover’. I must have read that phrase at least twenty times, and yet nobody writing it has explained why Resurrection should be left out of consideration when considering Morrison’s run. I think that the phrase is actually code for “You got other writers to mix with the sacred Morrison! Blasphemy!” – even when the people writing this then go on to damn the rest of Morrison’s run with a variety of types of faint praise.
Now, if you’re going to think of writers to collaborate with Morrison, I would suggest that Dini, Nicieza and Milligan are at least as reasonable a set of choices as Waid, Johns and Rucka – Milligan is a genuinely great comic writer for whom Morrison has expressed admiration in the past, and Dini and Nicieza are both very competent journeymen (much as it pains me to say that about Dini, who I still hold responsible for the execrable Countdown), so I don’t think that this, on its own, removes Resurrection from consideration. But is it ‘editorially mandated’? Was it imposed on Morrison from above?
Now, the main way to tell is just to see if it fits into the larger picture of his run – which I will do when I get to it – but for now I shall stipulate that I can make a good case that it fits with both the larger narrative and themes of Morrison’s run. What does an ‘editorially mandated’ crossover involving Morrison and Dini usually look like?
Well, as we’ve seen recently, what it actually involves is Morrison and Dini writing totally different, mutually incompatible stories, and Dini throwing in one or two lines referencing something that almost-but-not-quite happens in Morrison’s story, and then everyone complaining vociferously about this afterwards. That is clearly not what Resurrection looks like. Some people have complained about aspects of the storytelling, but the fact is, it reads as one story with a beginning, a middle and an end.
It also follows from Morrison’s work in a way that it doesn’t from the others – Dini obviously hated doing the story, having Ra’s effectively destroyed again in the very next issue after the crossover finished. Nicieza and Milligan were brought in just for this story. So if the story came from any of the writers, as opposed to editorial mandate, it must have come from Morrison.
This also fits in with what was said about the storyline in advance of its publication (more than a year ago now – scary how time passes so quickly) – that the original idea of Ra’s coming back was suggested by DiDio to Morrison (presumably to tie in with the character’s increased popularity post-Batman Begins), that Morrison liked the idea and plotted the story, and that only later was it decided to make it a crossover between all the Bat-books.
So to my mind, while that may count as an ‘editorially mandated crossover’ in the sense that it was the editorial team that decided for the story to *be* a crossover rather than a story taking place in only Morrison’s title, it certainly doesn’t seem to me like the storyline, or the effects on the rest of Morrison’s run, were in any way imposed on him. Other things later on may have been (and we’ll know more about that in the inevitable angry interview about how Morrison’s work was fucked around with by editorial after it’s all over – Morrison’s work is *always* fucked around with by editorial in one way or another, and he’s always angry about it) but to my mind, Resurrection is part of Morrison’s Bat-run, and will be discussed as such.
Tomorrow – the Joker.
I’ll be posting about music tonight, but in the meantime, you should go and read pillock on scale…