The Hero’s Journey (BATMAN! for those who’ve given up on me doing comics blogging again…)

So, after that semi-enforced break, I’m here to talk about Batman.

I’ve promised that I’ll review every Batman title Grant Morrison writes until the end of the Return Of Bruce Wayne storyline, but in truth RoBW #1 gives rather little for a writing-focussed reviewer such as myself (I simply don’t have the critical vocabulary to deal with art in a more than cursory manner), so this isn’t so much a review as a collection of points that came to me.

The first of which is – why isn’t Morrison’s Bruce Wayne bald?

I’m not asking this because Morrison writes so many bald characters into his work, but because the character as written should be. Take Morrison’s phrase ‘hairy-chested love god’, and then think of the fact that Morrison’s Batman is the alpha male in excelsis. He’s supposed to be able to dominate and subdue everyone just through the power of his pheromones and ‘old money’ breeding.

And as I (who resemble a silverback mountain gorilla from the eyebrows down, but one that has been prepared for some experimental brain surgery by having parts of its cranium inexpertly shaved when you see the complete me) can testify, anyone with that level of testosterone – anyone with as much body hair as Chris Sprouse portrays Bruce Wayne (and, indeed, all the male characters in this story ) as having, should have practically none on top (see also, for example, Sean Connery). Maybe Bruce had a hair transplant? I can just see him explaining to Alfred how it wasn’t anything to do with his personal vanity, just that he had to *look like* someone who was vain, purely to keep up the secret identity, you understand…

And there are a *lot* of those hairy male characters, aren’t there? In fact, in the whole main story of the issue there were only two panels containing females, who were purely sex objects for Vandal Savage. This issue doesn’t just fail the Bechdel test, it turns up for the test thinking it’s a Geography O-Level and draws a giant spunking cock on the answer paper. Knowing Morrison’s work, this will not be the case for the other issues.

It’s a truism about Morrison’s work – especially his work on Batman – that it stands or falls almost entirely on how sympathetic the artist with whom he’s working is. Cameron Stewart, J.H. Williams or Frank Quitely turn his scripts into things of beauty, graceful, funny, clever stories that practically sing off the page. Philip Tan or Tony Daniel though – both actually competent artists, if hardly masters – turn his scripts into turgid unreadable messes that are actually painful to plough through.

The artists for Return of Bruce Wayne are, for the most part, people who will definitely turn out exemplary work, but I was slightly worried about Chris Sprouse. Not because of any lack of talent on his part – his work on Tom Strong and Supreme shows he is an extremely gifted storyteller – but just because he’d never, to my knowledge, worked with Morrison before, and you can’t know how a collaboration like that will work until it happens.

I shouldn’t have worried. Sprouse is *absolutely* perfect for this. HIs Bruce Wayne is stocky and physical in a way that only Frank Miller and Dick Sprang have ever drawn him before – the robust Wayne here is a complete contrast to the gracile Dick Grayson appearing in the Batman & Robin title, just a solid squat lump of muscle rather than Grayson’s lithe gymnast. And that’s absolutely perfect for this story, which is little more than grunting and posturing, one long fight scene where the fearsome intellects of Wayne and Vandal Savage are deployed only for violence.

Which isn’t to say there’s no story there – a huge number of seeds for future issues are being planted here, even if at times this feels like a generic Elseworlds story (there *must* have been a Batman-is-a-caveman Elseworlds where one of the other cavemen is called ‘Joker’ and another becomes Robin, right?), and there’s some great characterisation (Wayne getting arrows in his unprotected back while protecting a child, instinctually protecting the innocent even while amnesiac).

But the pleasures of this comic are ultimately those of seeing Sprouse do proper action scenes of the kind we see all too rarely in superhero comics these days. This is a comic about a load of men built like brick shithouses beating each other up for thirty pages. And sometimes that’s enough.

I’m interested – and rather worried – to see that Dan Jurgens’ new Rip Hunter miniseries is actually going to tie in with this, rather than ‘tying in’ in the normal DC manner where that means ‘completely ignore’. I’m actually planning on buying Jurgens’ series for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with its actual qualities – partly a love for the character, partly because I have some affection for the Minnesotan Superman-Killer from when I was eleven and his comics were the best thing *ever* for a bright nerdy eleven-year-old, and partly because his recent Booster Gold run wasn’t that bad and the series is probably going to tie in with Giffen and DeMatteis’ run on that title. But Jurgens and Morrison are almost polar opposites as creators – Jurgens is the most tediously traditionalistic of people, doing craftsmanlike competent work (or incompetent in the case of his backups in 52), while Morrison is innovative even when he tries to be formulaic. And Jurgens actually walked off the Superman title he was working on in the mid-90s for an issue, because he refused to work from Morrison’s plot for a DC One Million tie in. So it’ll be interesting to see how that works out.

The time-travel element also suggests that RoBW will be connecting with Multiversity, which would be nice…

Anyway, I’m sure that as the series progresses I’ll have more to say about the story, as the pieces and themes start coming together. But for now, all I can say is “that Chris Sprouse draws pretty pictures!”

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1 Response to The Hero’s Journey (BATMAN! for those who’ve given up on me doing comics blogging again…)

  1. Prankster says:

    I noticed the lack of female characters too–in fact, on a first read-through, I missed them and thought there were no female characters whatsoever (aside from the one who appears at the end when he jumps to the next time period). Of course this fits nicely with the general tone and themes of the issue, as well as, presumably, the overall story Morrison’s telling. I can’t remember if this was explicitly stated in an interview, but it looks as though the main storyline is going to be Bruce Wayne reconstructing his persona from the ground up–this one has all the primal fears and passions that underlie the Batman story, presumably the Puritan story will tie in with his underlying moral code and dour personality…the pirate thing might have him rediscovering his swashbuckling, adventurous nature…?

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