My Top Ten Comics of 2014

Hello and welcome once more to my annual countdown of the Top 10 comics of the year. You’ll notice that, after last year’s inflated Top 20 list, I’m back down to 10 for 2014. That’s not to suggest that the quality of titles being released is in decline, but rather that I’ve probably been buying a little less comics this year, having to make some ruthless cuts to my pull list as having less and less free time to read through my comics has left a larger and larger pile of unread books to try to get to. That, and the fact that it took me ages to write that Top 20 list last year! 2014 has been another year of change for me, as while last year I talked a bit about how the number of Image titles I was reading had skyrocketed, this year I’ve had to drop a few of those. And while last year I said that I’d all but stopped reading Marvel and DC’s output, Marvel at least has made a big comeback for me, with an array of quality launches this year. Also noteworthy is the ascendancy of BOOM! Studios, with such quality output as The Woods, Memetic, Curse, Black Market and The Empty Man, and I’ve really been enjoying Oni Press output like The Life After and The Bunker. As ever, there are plenty of great comics I couldn’t fit into my top 10. Aforementioned indie offerings The Life After and The Woods, and other cracking indie titles like MonkeyBrain breakouts D4VE and Headspace, not to mention Image debuts like Spread, Wytches, Roche Limit and Deadly Class. Even some previous Top 10 mainstays like Batman, Saga and Sex Criminals, while maintaining a consistent quality, didn’t make the cut. Charles Soule wrote stellar comics for both Marvel and DC that came close to qualifying in She-Hulk and Swamp Thing respectively. Coming agonisingly close and actually being present in the list in an earlier draft was the delightful, charming, funny, surprisingly tender and emotional Dungeon Fun, by breakout genius Scottish creators Colin Bell and Neil Slorance. But what we’re left with is a collection of truly superb comics, some you may already be reading, others you should seek out. Let’s get right into it…

LegendaryStarLordI figured out numbers 1-9 on this list pretty quickly, but there was a real fight for this final spot on the list. Just take a look at that vast “Honourable Mentions” list above to show how many quality comics were in contention. But I think the main two that got closest were this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy expansions, Legendary Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon. Both were fun, action-packed titles, and I have a hard time deciding which one I loved more. Rocket Raccoon is just fantastic, Skottie Young is doing stellar work on that title, and it was perhaps the title that had the bigger immediate “WOW!” reaction of the two. But it’s Legendary Star-Lord that has grown on me even more over the course of their respective runs. Star-Lord is my favourite Guardian, and Sam Humphries has, in this series, crafted a version of Peter Quill that does justice to all iterations of his character. The surface level that immediately grabs you as the series begins is how spot-on a pastiche of Chris Pratt’s excellent cinematic portrayal it is, right down to the dude-speak and man-child party lifestyle. But as the series has progressed, Humphries has skilfully weaved what might have seemed like a soft character retcon to make it feel like an appropriate character evolution that stays faithful to the haunted, guilt-ridden moral pragmatist that starred in the definitive Abnett & Lanning Guardians of the Galaxy run. There’s even the inclusion of an updated version of transport/confidante Ship from the very earliest Star-Lord appearances from the 1970s. The bombastic artwork of Paco Medina is a revelation, and it’s his bright, energetic visuals that really hammer home the glorious comedy beats: from Kitty Pryde dancing in a giant banana suit to Quill on an awkward date dressed in a bad ’80s prom tux. Straddling a line between rewarding single-issue stories and steadily building up an intriguing overarching narrative, Legendary Star-Lord is a gem of a comic that makes a great case for why Star-Lord is a hero deserving of his own solo title.

EastOfWest10East of West has slipped a little from its #2 ranking last year. Don’t get me wrong, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s sci-fi/Western opus still ranks up there with Image’s best titles and is always a book that gets read very soon after I get home from buying it at the local comic shop. If anything, the lower placement is reflective of not poorer storytelling, but more subtle storytelling, with Hickman and Dragotta carefully expanding the world and often replacing the more sweeping scope of the initial arc with a series of one-shots exploring the various nations of this alternate America. All were interesting to varying degrees, though at times this approach left me missing some of my favourite characters and wondering when certain plot beats would be followed up on. But when the various threads start to weave together and the individually-defined forces start to clash, you really feel a sense of culmination, and the sheer scale feels even more epic and breathtaking for the build-up that set it up. With what has been set up as of the latest issue I read, Hickman seems primed to take this world into even darker places as the narrative enters its next phase. But it’s the team of Nick Dragotta and colourist Frank Martin that continue to steal the show with each passing chapter. There’s not an issue that goes by where I don’t have to stop at least once and just marvel over the construction of a page. Still arguably the most visually stunning art team in comics.

AndreTheGiantI’ll get this out of the way: you don’t have to be a wrestling fan to love Andre the Giant: Life and Legend. All you have to be is a fan of fascinating life stories, realised with wonderful comics storytelling by Box Brown. But I’ve been a wrestling fan going back to when I was a little kid, albeit not so much lately. And the first person I can remember being a favourite wrestler of mine was Andre the Giant. The 7-foot-plus tall athlete was, pun intended, a larger-than-life presence, and this graphic biography does a great job of conveying that, with various interviewees sharing accounts of the sheer size of the man and the unique life he led as a result of it that range from the charming to the breathtaking. But his size, which gave him incredible fame and a livelihood, was also an incredible burden. Most obviously, it was a medical condition, one that was slowly killing him. But, as Brown astutely depicts, it also negatively impacted his life in a whole series of constant little inconveniences and humiliations that wore him down, the cold fact that in one context, he was “The Eighth Wonder of the World,” but in another he was just a freak. The biography is more a highlight reel than an exhaustive analysis, but we do get some excellent snapshots of his life. We see how he used to get lifts to school from Samuel Beckett as a boy in France, and we get a look at his time on the set of The Princess Bride. But most effectively of all, Box Brown paints a portrait of an era of American history that holds endless fascination for me: the 1980s wrestling circuit and all the eccentricities contained within. Informative, poignant, and often laugh-out-loud funny, when I read Andre the Giant: Life and Legend back near the start of the year, it became probably the first definite fixture on this list and its place has stayed secure ever since.

StrayBulletsKillersWhat a fantastic year 2014 has been for fans of David Lapham’s seminal crime epic, Stray Bullets. With no new chapters published in some time, and the series arguably never getting the widespread acclaim and recognition it deserved, it seemed in danger of being consigned to history as an unfairly forgotten comics classic. But then Image Comics signed a new deal to revive Stray Bullets last year, prompting the series to be posted up on ComiXology. Then, this year, the original run was finally brought to a conclusion with Stray Bullets #41, followed by the whole series being released in a deluxe omnibus called “The Uber Alles Edition,” allowing a whole new generation of readers to get absorbed into this dark, ruthlessly bleak saga. And then we got Stray Bullets: Killers. David Lapham has slipped effortlessly back into this seedy world and its inhabitants, like slipping into an old pair of comfy slippers, not missing a beat. As always with Stray Bullets, Killers seems to operate on the fringes of the crime genre, looking at how regular people on the fringes are impacted, or how their moral decisions can have a ripple effect. The backbone of Killers has been the blossoming and ultimately wilting romance between recurring protagonist Virginia and Eli, two flawed characters who make mistakes, but who we come to deeply care about, and whose happiness we become highly emotionally invested in. A happiness which, if Stray Bullets has taught us anything, shouldn’t be expected to last. Killers is often a low-key series, and as such even now is still to some degree being overlooked, not always getting mentioned amongst the other great Image titles of the past year. But Stray Bullets: Killers is actually better than most of them, and has produced some of the best single issues of any comic in 2014.

MP19AlbertReturnsLast year’s #1 didn’t quite reach the same heights on this year’s list, in fact slipping to the ranking it held back in the 2012 list. But that’s hardly to suggest that writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Pitarra’s bonkers revisionist history tale of mad science gone wild is in decline. This is a series that continues to fire on all cylinders with big, crazed ideas. Talking dog Laika got her own standalone adventure in space. The original Albert Einstein from our Earth came back to our reality to confront his evil parallel Earth doppleganger, and we got to see the mad journey across countless realms he had to brave to return home. William Westmoreland joined the cast as a hardcase with an ear necklace who took on an elite alien killing machine and won. We discovered that Che Guevara and Fidel Castro had their brains replaced by evil Communist aliens. And it all built up to a take on the assassination of JFK (magic bullet and all) that was about as bonkers as we’ve come to expect. The visuals of this book from Pitarra and colorist Jordie Bellaire continue to be an absolute delight, packed with detail and character quirks that had so much to the fabric of the story and make it what it is. The cast and the scope of this series continues to get bigger and bigger, and so the year ended with The Manhattan Projects going on hiatus, with a promise to come back in 2015 with more character-driven arcs focusing on the various narrative strands one at a time. Whatever format The Manhattan Projects takes going forward, you can be certain that I’ll be onboard!

ThorGodOfThunderFor the sake of clarity, it’s Thor: God of Thunder – the 25-issue series drawn largely by Esad Ribic, which ended a few months back – which is my included entry on this list, rather than the newly relaunched Thor, also written by Jason Aaron. Not that the new series, isn’t really great – honestly, save for the new issue #1, it’s pretty much a continuance of the narrative from God of Thunder and part of the same overarching saga – but it’s just getting started, really, so if I must pick one title for inclusion on this list I’ll go for Thor: God of Thunder. This title was excellent right from its beginning, and during the “God Butcher” storyline quickly established itself as one of the crown jewels in Marvel’s lineup. But it was with Esad Ribic’s return to the series in “Last Days of Midgard” that the title reached its greatest heights, and Jason Aaron cemented his status as best Thor writer since Simonson. This storyline told two tales. One narrative was of an Earth in the future that had been left as little more than a ravaged husk, old King Thor left to defend it against Galactus come finally to claim the remains of the planet that had thwarted him for so long. Here we saw Ribic at his finest, depicting a Galactus that truly inspired awe and terror, underlining the impossible odds Thor faced in fighting him. The other tale was in a present that eerily foreshadowed the desolation of the future, with evil corporation Roxxon embarking on dangerous, morally repellent initiatives that bring them into conflict with Thor. Now, Jason Aaron has already made major contributions to the villains in Thor’s mythos without even using arch foe Loki: from introducing the terrifying Gor to giving real teeth and wickedness to Malekith in a portrayal that put his cinematic appearance to shame. So it’s not a statement I make likely when I say that Roxxon figurehead Dario Agger was the most vile, repellent villain Thor faced in the whole series. He was a great opponent for Thor, because he was not someone Thor could just hit with his hammer. He was a very Earthly evil, hiding behind lawyers and dirty corporate tricks and playing on a level even a heavy-hitter superhero like Thor struggled to keep up with. From beginning to end, Thor: God of Thunder was a delight: dramatic, scary, and often surprisingly funny. It seems like we should expect more of the same from the new Thor.

PaxAmericanaAs a huge Grant Morrison fan, The Multiversity has long seemed like one of those dream projects, long discussed, that I’d forever been looking forward to, but felt was never going to actually come to pass. It’s literally been years that Morrison has been talking about this, so even when it appeared in solicitations, I still don’t think I quite believed it was finally happening. I don’t think I believed it until I held that first issue in my hands. But now that it’s launched and the first few issues have been released, I can gladly confirm that it has met and even exceeded expectations. This is Morrison’s trip through the Multiverse, at once a medley of returning characters and recurring motifs from his past work, and trailblazing into new terrain. The first issue was dizzying in scope, giving us a sense of a vast, mad DCU filled with depth and intricacies to a degree we haven’t really seen since the New 52 began back in 2011, and also giving us the return of CAPTAIN CARROT! After that we got a glorious, pulp-inspired rendition of the JSA, with great portrayals of the likes of Doctor Fate. Next up was a universe populated with the various legacy heroes following on from their iconic predecessors, like Morrison doing Jupiter’s Legacy better than Millar. But best of all was “Pax Americana,” drawn by art legend and frequent Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely, which saw the pair tackle the original Charlton heroes like Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and The Question that served as the basis for Watchmen. And, never one to shirk from ambition, and being quite bold as brass in the face of Moore’s criticisms about Morrison copying his work, Morrison and Quitely tackle head-on the very ideas of comics structure that Moore and Gibbons were exploring with Watchmen, and arguably pushes the envelope even further. Frank Quitely is possibly my favourite comic artist ever, so it’s not lightly that I say this could be some of his finest work to date, with the assured colour palette of Nathan Fairbairn acting as the perfect compliment to his style.  What I’ve loved about every issue so far, though I can also see it being a bit infuriating, is that rather than just creating a bunch of one-and-dones, Morrison has written a collection of fantastic issue #1s, all of which end having introduced us to an immersive world and leaving us desperate for an issue #2 that will never come. Such amazing craft and world-building throughout. This is a barmy celebration of DC’s Multiverse, and of superhero comics in general, done in a way only Grant Morrison can. Fantastic.

DaredevilDepressionDaredevil, as written by Mark Waid and over the past couple of years mostly drawn by Chris Samnee, is a comic that has existed on the periphery of my perception for quite some time. I’ve always been aware of the popularity and critical acclaim behind the title, and I’d read an issue here or there, but 2014 was finally the year I dove in, thanks to the Marvel NOW relaunch that relocated Matt Murdock to San Francisco, but largely kept the tone, cast and overarching storylines consistent from the previous volume. I used this opportunity to give Daredevil a try, and at last I was hooked. I went back and bought the whole of Volume 3 in the three deluxe hardcover editions, stormed through it, and was left kicking myself for taking so long to jump on the bandwagon. When looking at how influential this title has been – you could argue it has inspired a whole line of creative thought in Marvel’s publishing output, from a shift to shorter story arcs, to an increased spotlight on more stylised, cartoony artwork over more glossy, cookie-cutter fare – it’s easy to overlook just how brilliant Daredevil remains, and how it’s still setting the bar. So, let’s take a closer look at this year in Daredevil, in particular the title since it was relaunched as Volume 4. As stated above, while the locations are fresh, much of the themes are carrying on from what came before. And, in particular, this underlying notion that Daredevil’s bright, upbeat “new beginning” where he’d make a conscious decision to be happier was perhaps less secure than it first seemed that has been niggling away since Waid’s tenure began has really been scrutinised and drawn into the open. We got the first allusions to it in the two-part Original Sin tie-in (surely one of the best tie-ins that event produced) where we explored Matt’s mother, and discovered she suffered from post-partum depression when Matt was an infant. This exploration of mental illness built up to the high-point of the volume: the recently-completed “Purple Children” storyline, where longtime Daredevil foe The Purple Man sets loose a group of his illegitimate children whose more primal version of his mind-controlling powers may be even more potent than his own. On one level, this worked as a thrilling superhero story, with The Purple Man as scary and nasty as ever. But it also served as an excellent study of depression, and the continued stigmas surrounding mental illness that prevent people seeking help. Daredevil has long been one of the best developed superheroes in comics, and Waid manages to add a new dimension to his personality in an utterly believable, relatable way. And Chris Samnee’s artwork! Every page is a joy to behold, with clean lines packed with vibrant, kinetic energy, bolstered by the crisp colours of Javier Rodriguez and, more recently, Matthew Wilson. Even as a character who has had some rather definitive, iconic artists draw him, Samnee may have emerged as my ultimate Daredevil artist. Believe the hype. Daredevil by Waid and Samnee is simply the most perfectly-realised superhero comic on the shelves today.

ThroughTheWoods1While the marketing may have been focused on Original Sin and Future’s End, for me, right from when I first heard about it late last year, I knew that Through the Woods by Emily Carroll would be my “event comic” of 2014. The immensely talented Emily Carroll first came to my attention with “His Face All Red,” a chilling webcomic that to this day is one of the creepiest, most perfectly-structured horror comics ever. And so I was highly excited by the prospect of this graphic novel anthology, collecting “His Face All Red” in print for the first time alongside a collection of original short horror tales. After spending half the year breathlessly anticipating Through the Woods, I was very pleased when the final product lived up to expectations. Emily Carroll has a distinctive approach to horror, a lyrical quality that makes them feel like old fables, or forgotten children’s tales with a sinister underbelly. And like those children’s tales, her stories play with primal, universal fears: the loss of loved ones, or that those you care about are not all that they appear to be. Her artwork complements this vibe by being quite simple and childlike, but deceptively detailed and still capable of repellent, horrific imagery. Every story in the collection is strong, there’s not one dud here, but if I had to pick my favourites, in addition to the previously mentioned “His Face All Red,” I’d pick out “The Nesting Place” – a bloodcurdling mix of Cronenbergian body horror and Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt – and “In Conclusion,” the epilogue which deftly plays with the imagery of Little Red Riding Hood to bring the book to a simple but unsettling close that will linger in the memory and induce shudders long after reading. This year, we’ve been spoiled with a treasure trove of quality horror comics, so much so that I even wrote about it on my blog. But standing above them all is Through the Woods, and with this collection, Emily Carroll has cemented her status as the Queen of Comics Horror, second only to the legendary Junji Ito when it comes to using the comics medium to craft fear. And speaking of Junji Ito, I’ve learned that he has a new collection getting translated into English, due for a 2015 release. Now I know what my “event comic” of 2015 will be, then…

SouthernBastards1There are certain books that you know right away you’re going to love. Southern Bastards was one of those books, where as soon as it got announced at Image Expo, I knew it was going to be a must-read. Anyone familiar with my previous annual top 10 comics lists or with my blog in general will know that I absolutely adore Scalped, Jason Aaron’s masterpiece. It attained the #1 spot on this list on multiple previous years during its run, and I wrote some very detailed, lengthy blogs dissecting some of the stuff I love about the gritty crime saga. It’s the series that established Jason Aaron as one of my favourite writers, and has led to be following him onto his work with Marvel, which I’ve enjoyed. But with Southern Bastards, drawn by his recurring collaborator Jason Latour, Aaron seemed to be setting up a book primed to fill the void left in my comics-reading life by Scalped when it ended. And in 6 issues, the book has done just that. Hell, you could argue it had done that by issue #1. Given that you could suggest Scalped took a story arc or so before it really got going, you might even argue that Southern Bastards has launched itself out of the starting block even faster than that classic. Immediately, you could tell this was two masters at work, with a sweaty, sun-scorched atmosphere that immersed you in the Deep South. Craw County is simultaneously depicted as a tangibly awful place that no one would want to go near, but also so well-realised in its scenery and its diners selling fried pie that I kinda want to go there. Latour’s red-hewn colour palette helps a great deal with this distinctive atmosphere, as does his hard-bitten character design. This is a tough world, and one laced with pain and tragedy. At first, we think we’re getting one kind of story, and we imagine we’re seeing the well-worn story tracks laid out before us. But then that train is derailed in the most gut-punching, upsetting of fashions. “Upsetting” is something this book does well. I think I’ve had my heart broken reading this comic half a dozen times in as many issues. It feels like we’re still in the opening salvos of a much larger narrative, so the bigger picture of the plot may not yet be clear, but what truly elevates this comic are the characters. They feel nuanced, like real people (though maybe people you’d never want to actually meet), with Aaron once again displaying real skill for finding the bruised humanity in even the most seemingly awful of people. Six issues in, and already Southern Bastards feels like appointment reading, the book I know I’ll rush to read immediately as soon as I get it home, its cast of characters already nestling their way into my brain and into my heart. One thing that somewhat sets it apart from Scalped is acclaim. Scalped was one of the best comics ever, but it always felt a bit like an underrated gem, beloved by those who discovered it but overlooked by wider audiences. I would put it at #1 on my lists while beseeching people to give it a try. On the other hand, I write this knowing that Southern Bastards is almost a boring choice to top my list with, as everyone seems to be putting it in their lists. But sometimes a choice is obvious because it is absolutely deserved. And I for one am glad that the rise of Image Comics and creator-owned comics means that a comic as excellent as Southern Bastards can get the recognition and respect it deserves. Roll on year two!
And that’s that! What will next year’s list bring? Will Southern Bastards be the first comic since Scalped to take the #1 spot more than once? Or will one of the books currently slated for a 2015 release that I’m eagerly looking forward to, like Junji Ito’s Fragments of Horror or Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor, nab the top spot? We’ll have to wait until next December to know for sure. In the meantime, as ever, I’ll end with an overview of the annual standings, and what comics have made the #1 spot each year I’ve ran this feature on my blog….

2010: Scalped
2011: Scalped
2012: The Underwater Welder
2013: The Manhattan Projects
2014: Southern Bastards

Thanks for reading, everyone. Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!


Is 2014 Comics’ Summer of Horror?

EmilyInterviewTeaserOver the past couple of months, it feels like I have been immersed in horror. Over the course of this month in particular, it’s starting to seem like my every spare moment has been dedicated to talking up my horror comic series, And Then Emily Was Gone. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid my social media PR onslaught, here’s the series synopsis:

Greg Hellinger is a man who sees monsters. Driven to the brink of madness by monstrous apparitions, he is tasked with finding a missing girl called Emily. Hellinger’s search takes him to a remote community in the Scottish Orkney Islands, where strange and terrifying things are happening…

Equal parts Twin Peaks, True Detective and The Wicker Man, with an atmospheric rural Scottish setting, And Then Emily Was Gone is a comic I’m really proud to have written, and artist Iain Laurie, colorist Megan Wilson and letterer Colin Bell have all done stellar work. The five-issue miniseries will be released monthly by ComixTribe, with the first issue hitting comic shops in July. That means this is the month it’s in the Diamond Previews catalogue available for order, and that’s left me thinking a lot about the marketability for this weird little book. From the early stages, there was concern that there might not be an audience in the comic market for this kind of morbid, gruesome story, that this might sit as something of an oddity among the more bombastic, action-orientated fare available in Previews. But recently, it’s started to occur to me that something dark is afoot in the comics world. Horror comics are on the rise, and now And Then Emily Was Gone is feeling less like a strange curio and more like a small part of a big movement.

EMILY 0108Just look at the new releases on the shelf of your local comic shop this week. Wednesday 7th May marked the launch of two new horror titles: Nailbiter and The Woods. Nailbiter is an Image Comics series from writer Joshua Williamson and artist Mike Henderson, about a small town in the American heartland that has been the birthplace of 16 prolific serial killers, and the disquieting secrets that town may hold. It was first announced at Image Expo in January, and did not seem like the most high-profile unveiling of that weekend. But over the past couple of months, I’ve watched buzz steadily built, first as people were floored by the blood-drenched preview art coming from Mike Henderson, then as the word-of-mouth started slipping out from those who’d read advance copies and were blown away. There was something palpable in the air that Nailbiter was going to be very special indeed, possibly the latest Image #1 to make a big splash. It says a lot that in the week that both Marvel and DC’s big crossover events of the year debuted – Original Sin and Future’s End respectively – the coverage and “book of the week” accolades going to Nailbiter threatened to upstage both of them. And having read the first issue myself, I can assure you it’s worthy of the hype. Mike Henderson’s moody artwork is a revelation, and while Joshua Williamson already turned heads last year with his impressive work on Ghosted, but Nailbiter sees him up his writing game once more. A single issue efficiently presents us with a well-realised world with intriguing/disturbing characters, and a steady accumulation of dread literally visualised on the page with a recurring THUMP-THUMP, THUMP-THUMP, THUMP-THUMP heartbeat growing ever more prevalent.


But as impressive as Nailbiter was, in my humble opinion The Woods just about matched it step-for-step. From Boom! Studios – the latest addition to their slate of quality original content as they become ever more serious in emerging as a match for Image’s dominance of the creator-owned market – from writer James Tynion IV and artist Michael Dialynas, The Woods tells the story of a high school filled with pupils and staff which is suddenly and without explanation teleported to an alien world, at which point the people in the dramatically relocated building very quickly find themselves having to fight for their lives against monstrous alien beasts out to hunt them. The plot very quickly becomes gripping, and drew me in as a reader both in terms of the immediate tension presented in the high-stakes nature of the characters’ plight, and in a more overarching sense of thinking of the larger mystery behind how and why the school was brought to this world. But what really made The Woods stand out was the characters. Amongst the 513 people caught in this extra-terrestrial event, a small core ensemble of characters quickly emerge as figures to care about and get emotionally invested, already been drawn as real, likeable kids whose safety we are going to fear for. It’s very much cut from the same cloth as Manga horror classic Drifting Classroom, pushing the same buttons of intense claustrophobia, child endangerment and what sides of human nature will emerge out in the wilderness, but with enough of an American twist to give it its own identity.

TheWoods1So, two horror comics debut in the same week, both are quality books with buzz and critical acclaim behind them. What is it indicative of, if anything? It’s not like the comic medium is any stranger to horror. There’s in fact a rich history of horror comics. The biggest creator-owned comic in the industry today is The Walking Dead, ostensibly a horror comic, though I’d argue it’s evolved into more of a sweeping post-apocalyptic epic. And in recent years we’ve had our share of modern classics in the genre: Locke & Key, Severed, Echoes. But what stands out as different this year is the density with which these horror titles are hitting, and the splash they’re making. Nailbiter and The Woods both seem poised to go from strength to strength, but there are more debuts on the horizon. Spread, written by Justin Jordan and drawn by Kyle Strahm, is built around the delicious high-concept of “The Thing meets Lone Wolf and Cub,” and boasts some truly blood-curdling imagery. It caused a sensation at last year’s New York Comic Con, and now Image Comics have picked it up and have it slated for a July release. It got a major spotlight in this month’s Previews, and is already starting to build something of a social media steamroller behind it as that advance buzz brews. Watch this become one of the sleeper hits of the summer.

Spread1As the summer continues to roll on into August and beyond, some of the biggest names in comics will be getting in on the action. Writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock – the creative team behind one of the most celebrated Batman stories of the past decade, The Black Mirror – are reteaming for Image Comics to bring us Wytches. Now, Snyder is no stranger to the horror genre. One could argue he cut his teeth in the genre, with both his breakthrough Vertigo hit American Vampire (which since its Second Cycle relaunch has really seemed to bring the horror to the fore) and the aforementioned Severed. Even his mainstream DC work on the likes of Batman and Swamp Thing has had a fair share of horror elements injected into it, and The Wake was rich in horror trappings before morphing into an equally compelling but tonally distinct entity in its second half. So it makes a statement when Snyder talks about Wytches being the darkest and scariest he’s ever gone. This is something that’s quite fascinating for me, as horror is still something of a frontier in comics, and creators are still experimenting with how best to use the medium to scare the reader. Snyder has already been amongst the most successful, with Severed in particular making for harrowing reading, so when some of the best in the field are pushing at the forefront and striving to go further than they ever have, it suggests it’s an exciting time to be a fan of horror comics.

Wytches1Pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in a horror comic is also on the agenda for Nameless, another Image Comics offering. This also sees the reunion of the creative team of an acclaimed Batman run, this time Batman Inc, as artist Chris Burnham pairs up once more with writer and comics legend Grant Morrison. Details of this series have been sparse, and we don’t even have a concrete release date yet, but Burnham has talked about this being “the ultimate horror comic,” while Morrison has suggested that his ambition is to capture the zeitgeist and use Nameless to project a definitive statement about what frightens us on a primal level in modern society – “doing hopefully for now what H.P. Lovecraft did for the wartime generation,” as Morrison puts it – and considering that when Morrison set out to make the definitive statement on the superhero he gave us All Star Superman, we should all be very afraid at what he has in store for us with Nameless.

Nameless1But even with these big name talents with debuts lined up, there is one horror comic that I’m looking forward to more than any other. Ever since I first heard about it last year, there has been a graphic novel pencilled in as one of my premiere comic events of the year. The graphic novel I’m talking about is Through the Woods, by writer/artist Emily Carroll. When last I heard, it was set for a July release, but the marketing has been quite low-profile. But those who know about it are very excited about it indeed, as Emily Carroll is arguably the current master of the horror comic. His Face All Red is one of the single greatest horror stories to emerge from any medium in recent years. Like all the best horror, it stays with you long after you’ve finished reading, makes you think, makes you ask questions then leaves you troubled in the late hours by the implied answers. Her work has been a big inspiration to me in terms of opening my eyes to what kind of horror was possible in comic form. And up until now, her output has all been in the form of free webcomics. Through the Woods marks Emily Carroll’s first foray into the realm of print, with His Face All Red being collected with some new stories. Any horror fan should be marking this down as an essential purchase. In the grand picture of “the summer of horror” and the rise of horror in comics, Through the Woods could end up being the most important book of all.

ThroughTheWoods1There’s a quote from actor/writer Mark Gatiss I particularly like, spoken at the beginning of the BBC documentary series, A History of Horror:

The cinema is where we come to share a collective dream, and horror films are the most dreamlike of all, perhaps because they engage with our nightmares.

Just as horror films at their best have a unique power with the way they utilise the tools of that medium in the most visceral and potent of ways, I think that the comic medium has the same potential for engaging the senses. It’s a visual medium, and a well-crafted image can be seared on a reader’s psyche, yet despite the notable works in the field I feel like much of that potential remains untapped. Recently, I feel like horror cinema has lost much of its edge, and there haven’t been that many genuinely great horror films over the past several years. So, I talked about the frontier before, and I believe that more and more comics could become the proving ground where we go to scare ourselves in the most inventive and rewarding manner. For years I’ve felt like the horror market for comics could be huge, and this year it feels like we could be taking major steps in that direction. I don’t claim to be anywhere on the level of all these exciting works making their way to comic shops in the coming weeks and months, but if all the “summer of horror” does indeed prove to be a significant movement in the comics industry, I’m proud that And Then Emily Was Gone can be part of it.


And Then Emily Was Gone #1 is released in July.  Pre-order your copy now, Previews order code MAY141251.  For more info, follow the Facebook page or check out the official blog.

Through the Woods is released in July.  Pre-order your copy now, Previews order code APR141272

Spread #1 is released in July.  Pre-order your copy now, Previews order code MAY140579

Wytches is released in August.  Nameless does not yet have a release date. 

Nailbiter #1 and The Woods #1 are available to buy now from all quality comic shops.

REVIEW: Happy! #1

Anyone who knows anything about me will know that I’m likely to give any book with Grant Morrison’s name on it a go.  Morrison is probably my favourite writer, and so the thought of him working on an Image title was very exciting for me, particularly with the roll Image has been on lately.  All it took was that teaser poster for Happy!, with the single blue feather, and the names of Grant Morrison and Transmetropolitan artist Darick Robertson, for the series to instantly become one of my most anticipated upcoming comics.  That poster gave very little away, and so at first I didn’t know what to expect from this 4-part miniseries.  But whatever it was I expected, it probably wasn’t this.

Though Morrison has certainly shown diversity in his output, there are certain expectations one might have coming into a Grant Morrison comic: psychadelia, big, bold ideas, something mind-blowing and larger than life.  Instead, Happy! starts off as something quite different.  We’re introduced to a drab, murky world, one filled with gangsters, corrupt cops and busty prostitutes, where everyone swears liberally and people regularly get shot in face-splattering style.  At first, it all seems quite heavy-handed and ridiculously, something pushing DARK and EDGY and GRITTY to a laughable extreme.

Only, it becomes clear that this is exactly what Morrison is doing.  This is the output of Mark Millar or latter day Garth Ennis amped up to the nth degree:  shocking so much and so quickly that all the violence and nudity and flying body fluids and horrible people all becomes numbing.  It’s as if Morrison is asking us, “Is this really entertainment?”  It’s a potent deflation of grim-and-gritty, ably realised by the artwork of Robertson.  It helps that, with his work on The Boys, Robertson’s style is quickly associated with that “Oooooh, look how SHOCKING I am!” breed of storytelling, and he plays that up by building a world that feels very ugly.  This sense is assisted by Richard P. Clark’s colours, so washed out that everything is just set in an off-putting malaise.

Then along comes Happy the Horse, and everything is turned on its head.

With the arrival of the cheerful, chirpy imaginary friend that only our anti-hero Nick Sax can see, things take a more recognisably Morrison twist, that recurring motif of ideas made real by us thinking them.  Interestingly, though, while Morrison has often chosen to leave such things more open-ended, here Happy tells Nick Sax that he’s free to just think he’s a hallucination, a product of his morphine-addled mind.  But conversely, this makes me more inclined to think the opposite true, and that Happy is – as he says – the imaginary friend of a missing child.  And Happy, as a character, is wonderfully realised by Robertson and Clark, bright blue in stark contrast to the muted tones everywhere else, and drawn in a style jarringly distinct from everything else in the comic.

So, over the course of Happy! #1, I found myself shifting from not really liking what I was reading, to being won over once I realised what Morrison was doing, and by the end my impression was that I’d liked the comic.  I’m certainly keen enough to come back for #2, but whether or not I go beyond that depends on where the story goes from here.  This cleverly established the conceit of a miserable, Millarish world being hijacked by Morrison, donning the fiction suit of Happy the Horse.  But where do you take the story once you’ve staged this reversal?  It’ll be interesting to see how much is made of the dichotomy between Happy and the grim world he now inhabits, as that to me seems like the richest thread available to further explore.  With Morrison’s name involved, I’m willing to wait and see.

Happy! #1 is out now in all quality comic book shops.

REVIEW: Animal Man #1

In his groundbreaking run on Animal Man, Grant Morrison famously ended his tenure on the book with a meeting between the writer and the title character.  20 years later, with Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man relaunch as part of DC’s New 52, we begin with one.  Donning what Morrison would call a “fiction suit”, Lemire enters the world of the story in the form of a correspondent for The Believer, a magazine conducting an interview with Buddy Baker that forms the opening page of Animal Man #1.  A first page that’s entirely prose is an unusual, eye-catching way to launch a comic series, one which might have backfired, but Lemire pulls it off well.  Through the interview, we get an organic info dump/catch-up session for those unfamiliar with the character, establishing his history as a part-time superhero, animal rights activist and family man, and now an actor.  So far, so good.  But it’s with the pages that follow that Animal Man #1 becomes great.

Jeff Lemire is best known and loved for Sweet Tooth and Essex County, comics that deal with issues of family and community.  As such, Animal Man feels like the perfect DC hero for him to tackle.  Some people were against the idea of a new Animal Man series, saying that it was Grant Morrison’s metatextual approach that made his run great and therefore made it a waste of time trying to say anything else with the character.  I disagree.  As fascinating a storyline as the breaking of the 4th wall made, what what really makes Animal Man great (and I believe this is the conclusion Morrison also came to) is his family.  DC might have been able to make Clark Kent and Barry Allen single in the new DCU, but never in a million years could they get away with doing that to Buddy Baker.  His family is a big part of who he is, and crucial to the character’s Everyman appeal.

Lemire’s handling of this family dynamic is a joy to read.  From the nagging from his kids to the semi-playful bickering with his wife, the Bakers feel like a convincing, relatable family, in all its warmth and mundanity.  Even the superheroics are grounded in the fact that Buddy has to dig out his costume from the laundry room, and before he leaves his wife Ellen warns him to take off his boots when he gets back so he doesn’t trail mud all through the house.

These aforementioned superheroics take up a relatively smal portion of the comic, but in this sequence we do get an effective showcase of Buddy’s animal powers: how they work, and how they can be pretty cool when put to use.  Having him bark like a dog to scare his attacker is a nice touch.  But of course, the truly compelling threat that emerges by the issue’s end is one that endangers not his Animal Man alter ego, but Buddy Baker himself and his family unit.  This shady menace – one which may be linked to the emerging monster of Snyder and Paquette’s Swamp Thing #1 – culminates in a truly macabre final page.  It’s a magnificently structured comic, grabbing your attention right away, then holding it and further immersing you until we reach a climax that left me gasping for the next instalment.  This is certainly the best comic Jeff Lemire has written that he didn’t also draw himself.

In Lemire’s stead, the art duties for Animal Man fall to Travel Foreman.  Now, I can tell that with his loose anatomy and sharp, angular style, Foreman’s art isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea.  Even I was unsure what to make of it based on the previews DC released.  But in the context of the comic as a whole, I think Foreman’s art worked beautifully.  It has an ethereal quality to it that makes it look unlike anything else in DC’s New 52.  Between this and Paquette’s stunning tableaus in Swamp Thing, it would appear the DCU Dark titles are going to have their own distinct visual style that sets them apart from their more mainstream counterparts.

Foreman’s art style is reminiscent of Garry McLaughlin, a Glasgow-based artist I’ve been fortunate enough to work with, and who I’m sure you’ll be hearing more of in the future.  It’s also reminiscent, in a less direct way, of Jeff Lemire himself.  While the actual style looks quite different to Lemire’s artwork, it shares with Lemire that appealing oddness that makes Foreman feel like an ideal collaborator for Lemire.  In his other DC projects, Lemire has certainly worked with good artists, but they’ve been good artists who work in a traditional superhero style, and so to a degree I feel Lemire’s distinct voice has been somewhat muted at times.  But with an artist like Foreman, who seems more in tune with Lemire’s style, this feels more like a quintissential “Jeff Lemire comic” than any of his other DCU output thus far.

As much as I enjoyed Foreman’s art throughout, the part where he really excels is in the horrifying nightmare sequence that occurs near the end of the comic.  Here, Foreman cuts loose with some psychadelic page layouts, and goes wild with his monster designs – I found the “reimagining” of Maxine’s soft toy Mr. Woofers to be particularly delightful.  Really, this is the standout sequence of the issue for the whole creative team.  Lemire gets to flex his horror muscles with an ordeal entrenched in dream logic – note how ojects and characters appear and disappear out of nowhere – and I got a wee shudder as an innocent child sweetly chirped, “It’s them.  Too late.  We’re all gonna die now.”  Co-inker Dan Green helps enhance the moody grayscale of the scene with swirling ink blot effects and varying textures of black and gray.  Colorist Lovern Kindzierski injects gruesome life into this colorless landscape with gruesome reds: the red of blood, but also invocative of The Red, the animal-based counterpart to The Green of Swamp Thing.  Even letterer Jared K. Fletcher gets to have some fun and experimentation, giving each of the Hunters Three – the new Big Bads lurking in the shadows, “the bad things that dress as men,” as Maxine puts it – their own distinct style of font and speech bubble, each of which compliments the design given to the respective Hunter by Travel Foreman.  More than anything else, this dream sequence shows us what this creative team is capable of.

Of all the New 52 comics I read this week, Animal Man #1 was perhaps the biggest surprise.  Sure, as soon as I heard Lemire was onboard back in June, I added it to my list of comics to buy, but after that I largely forgot about this comic.  Amidst my hype for other books, I might have taken this one for granted.  It ended up being the fourth comic I got round to reading yesterday, after Action Comics, Swamp Thing and Stormwatch.  But it topped Stormwatch.  It even topped Action Comics.  In fact, I’d rank Animal Man #1 as one of the best comics to come out of DC’s relaunch yet, second only to the astounding Swamp Thing #1.  It would seem that the Dark is the place to be in the new DCU.

REVIEW: Action Comics #1

When news of DC’s relaunch first hit the web, and it was announced to much excitement that Grant Morrison would be writing Action Comics, the famous writer talked about how he and artist Rags Morales would create a new language for comics in their Superman saga.  Some wondered what this meant: was it anything more substantial than vague marketing hyperbole?  Then I read Supergods – Grant Morrison’s history of the superhero genre/partial biography, released shortly after the relaunch was announced – and all of a sudden the answer was clear.

As one can probably imagine from any history of the superhero genre, the first chapter sees Morrison talk at length about Superman.  The whole passage (and indeed, the whole book) is fascinating reading, but of particular interest to me was his in-depth case study of the original Action Comics #1 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  He imagines approaching the book as a reader in 1938 – the initial ambiguity over whether this mysterious Superman was a hero or a villain, the awe at him engaging in amazing feats far beyond the reach of his pulp predecessors – and praises this landmark comic (which now sells for millions of dollars) for inventing a new kind of storytelling, creating the superhero comic.  And from there, it clicked: this new Action Comics #1 is the first Action Comics #1 since that first one that launched the superhero genre, and Grant Morrison and Rags Morales are approaching this comic with the goal of recreating the experience readers felt back then for today’s jaded audience.  Just reading Morrison’s description of that first Superman comic having non-stop action from panel to panel – bam, bam, bam – something new and exciting constantly happening with every image, I imagined what a modern version of that might be like… and it really had me anticipating this comic.

Action Comics #1 lives up to much of that promise.  As was the case with the Siegel and Shuster original, we begin the action in media res, and the pace doesn’t let up until all 29 pages of story have flown by.  In a lot of ways, I think Action Comics could have been more deserving of being the one DC comic to lead the charge and launch the New 52 last week than Justice League.  Not only is it a better comic, but it more powerfully conveys a sense of newness to this world.  We’ve all gotten so used to Superman, and he’s become such a safe, iconic character, that it takes quite a lot of skill to take us back to a place where he was new, even threatening, but Morrison and Morales pull it off.  Morrison’s plotting seems to put us forever one step behind him, in the perspective of those observing him as they struggle to keep up.  Morales’ art, meanwhile, gives us a Superman often cast into shadow, glowing red eyes glaring out at us, enhancing the alien qualities of the character.  As for the much-maligned T-shirt and jeans outfit, in the context of the story, it works.  It gives us a Superman that’s almost believable, casting aside the familiar iconography of the superhero genre and making us think what it might actually be like if someone in a world not unlike our own started to manifest these incredible powers.

Based on the preview that was released last week, which featured Superman throwing around corrupt businessmen and taunting negligent cops, some folk on the internet were unhappy with Superman’s characterisation, saying he came across as a “jock” or a “douche”.  I didn’t think that someone who shows zero tolerance for injustice and bullies qualifies as a douche, and in the context of the issue as a whole I think my stance has been further vindicated.  Though the government, the law and the corrupt fear him, regular people, particularly the downtrodden, love him, and in one touching sequence, protectively encircle him when he’s confronted by the military.  This is Superman as man of the people, again taking him right back to his roots.  He’s also a Superman who bruises, who bleeds, who can’t yet fly, someone who has not yet reached the peak of his powers.  He’s relatable.  That carries over to his alter ego as well.  Clark Kent is still a journalist, but rather than dressing him up in a suit and giving him a 1930s nerd chic combover, he dresses younger, more casually, looking more like a farmboy in the big city.   He lives in a small apartment and struggles to pay his rent, perhaps feeling more in touch with young professionals who might now be the most likely target audience for a comic.  We also get a sense that Clark Kent the reporter is more than just the convenient disguise for Superman: the pursuit of truth at the core of journalism is something Clark passionately believes in, and it would appear his superhuman persona is in fact an extension of that, as the nasty individuals he’s investigating are the same people he goes after as Superman.

And of course, even in the early days, you can’t have Superman without Lex Luthor.  Superman’s ever-evolving nemesis now finds himself in the role of independent contractor doing freelance work for the military, offering scientific insight into how best to stop and capture this mysterious alien being.  Luthor is largely in the shadows in this issue, but we do get glimpses into his personality and motivations.  Him constantly referring to Superman as “it” rather than “he” was a nice touch, and one speech talking about how the introduction of foreign creatures in the animal kingdom can result in the eradication of indigenous species was particularly effective.  We have seen from All Star Superman that Morrison writes a great Lex Luthor, so I can’t wait to see how his role expands as this story develops.

The artwork of Rags Morales has its odd ropey moment (in particular, Lex Luthor’s age, facial structure and body shape seems to change almost on a panel-to-panel basis), but for the most part, he excels in bringing to dramatic life every amazing feat Morrison’s script calls upon him to portray.  As touched upon above, his Superman is great, always the most interesting part of every page he appears on.  With the way his body language is laid out, you can feel the effort that goes behind every move for this young and inexperienced Superman, bringing new life and excitement to all the famous gestures we can often take for granted.

As for Morrison, this is the master of the dizzying high-concept at his most open and accessible, telling a story that I think can appeal to everyone, from loyal Super-fans to dubious cynics.  I had high expectations for Action Comics #1 from the moment it was announced, expectations that rose even further after reading Supergods, so it’s a testament to the quality of this comic that those expectations were mostly fulfilled.  This is the Superman comic we’ve been waiting for.

REVIEW: Detective Comics #879

I almost never picked up the first issue of Scott Snyder’s run on Detective  Comics.  It arrived at a period when I was trying to trim down my monthly comic buying habits, and I had made myself a strict statement of intent that the only Batman comics I needed to be reading where whatever ones Grant Morrison happened to be writing.  His jawdropping, landmark run with the character is going to be looked back on one day as one of the all-time greats, and I felt that it gave me all I could possibly need as a Batman comic fan.  But after reading all the great reviews for Snyder and artist Jock’s debut on the title, I grudgingly decided to give it a go, just for one issue.

I’m glad I did: it’s become one of my most anticipated titles each month ever since, and on weeks when their respective scheduling means I can pick up both Snyder’s Detective Comics and Morrison’s Batman Inc, as big of a Morrison fan as I am, I must admit Detective gets read first.

Even more than Morrison did on his Batman & Robin run, Snyder truly gets into the psyche of Dick Grayson, and lays out what makes him unique, and different from Bruce Wayne, as Batman.  And more than that, over the course of his run he has made a potent statement about Gotham itself, with his first arc, “Black Mirror”, and its follow-up, “Hungry City”, both showing the city as almost a living entity, shifting  and changing to reflect the worst nightmares of its current protector.  I truly believe that, years from now, even once Bruce Wayne is long re-established as the sole Batman and the idea of Dick Grayson wearing the cowl has become an obscure, almost-forgotten historical curio, the strength of this story will be enough for it to operate outside of current continuity and have a healthy life in the graphic novel market.

But as much as I’ve enjoyed Snyder and Jock’s main storyline of Dick Grayson’s trials as the new Batman, I think the subplot involving Commissioner Gordon’s difficult reunion with his (literal) psychopath son James, Jr has been even better.  It began as the back-up story for the series, and when DC canned those, Snyder shifted things around  so that every fourth issue of the title would become a full-length Gordon story.  Issue #875, “Lost Boys”, was the first of these Gordon spotlight issues, and it still stands as the single best issue of this entire run, and quite possibly Snyder’s finest hour in any of his comics thus far.  Issue #879, “Skeleton Key” (after 4 paragraphs, he finally gets to reviewing the issue!), doesn’t quite top that masterpiece of comics storytelling, but is at least the best issue of Detective Comics SINCE #875.

A big part of what makes “Skeleton Key” – and the rest of this Gordon subplot – so brilliant is the artwork of Francesco Francavilla.  Jock’s interiors in the “A-story” have been great too, and rightly celebrated, but in my personal opinion Francavilla’s work might be even better.  Of course, it’s two different styles for two different stories: the kinetic, exciting layouts of Jock’s artwork reflects the high-octane acrobatics of Dick Grayson as Batman.  This Gordon story, however, owes more to the psychological crime thriller, even horror, and that is reflected in Francavilla’s heavy shadows and claustrophobic panel construction.

But perhaps more than his crisp, noir-tinged artwork, it’s Francavilla’s colors that really set the tone of his work here.  The use of bright neon pink, purple, orange, yellow and red (especially red, lots and lots of red) might initially be a bit overwhelming for some.  It reminds me of the original coloring for Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke.  I know Bolland wasn’t a fan of that look, and had it recolored in more muted tones for the recent hardcover re-release, but I was always a fan of those original colors and the nightmarish funhouse vibe it gave the story, making it feel like a bad acid trip.  The word “nightmarish” also springs to mind for the effect it has on the story here, with Francavilla plunging us into a world that feels sinister and off-kilter.

Of course, much credit must also go to the writing  of Scott Snyder.  Here is a Batman comic where Batman doesn’t once appear, and thanks to the stellar characterisation of Gordon, we don’t miss him.  Jim Gordon is a character I’ve long been fond of.  As much as Batman: Year One is hailed as one of the definitive Batman stories, I think at it’s core it’s really a Gordon story.  Even in the films, as talented as Christian Bale is, I think Gary Oldman’s better.  Here, Snyder engages in something he has shown a skill for: opening up unexplored pockets of history and exploring how they impact on the present.  In Gordon’s case, he has brought back the long-absent James, Jr – seen as an infant in Year One, and rarely since then – as a malevolent figure.  For a while, the menace of the character came from us not knowing his true motives, and whether his words could be taken at face value.  After last month confirmed our suspicions about James, Jr’s true nature, here we see Gordon come to that same realisation.

The actual main narrative development of the issue is probably the weakest aspect of the comic.  When we discover what James, Jr’s plans are, it feels to much like a supervillain’s evil scheme.  A really clever evil scheme, it must be said, but part of what made James, Jr such an unnerving presence is that he didn’t feel like just another larger-than-life  supervillain.  He was a monster that was a lot more uncomfortably close-to-home than that, and as such Gordon – and by extension, us – didn’t know quite how to react to him.  By going from something not quite tangible to being “the villain”, the obvious solution becoms “flip on the Bat-Signal and call in Batman.”

No, the real strength and power in Snyder’s writing here comes in the smaller moments.  Perhaps most potently of all, near the end – once he learns the full extent of his son’s darkness and is rushing to stop him – Gordon is haunted by fragmented images of his son as a smiling, innocent child, a child that is now long gone.  If the overarching story of Snyder’s run is about Gotham acting as a “black mirror”, the corruption of his son is the ghoulish reflection Gordon sees staring back at him.  This is a story about parents and their children, and as such a large chunk of the issue depicts the relationship between Gordon and Barbara.  Snyder doesn’t hammer us over the head with it, a lot is left unspoken, but the absolute trust, faith and love the two have for one another is clear.  As the ever-worsening grimness of the James, Jr story plays out, this more positive relationship for Gordon serves as a beacon of light, however dim.

Oh, and The Joker shows up too.  The Joker is probably my favorite character in comics, if not all fiction, so I always love seeing how new writers and artists will handle him.  Here, hidden behind a Hannibal Lecter style mask for the entirety of his appearance, inhuman eyes bulging out of the narrow slits, he fits in effortlessly with Francavilla’s neon-noir horror vibe.  His words (lettered by Jared K Fletcher in their own distinct, ragged font, heightening the aforementioned “inhuman” effect) are an elaborate mind-game for his captors in Arkham, but take on a whole new significance when juxtaposed against the Gordon family drama: “It’s a story about LOVE!  LOVE!  LOVE!”  I’m of the opinion that every story becomes that little bit better if you put The Joker in it (The King’s Speech would surely have won even more Oscars if the Clown Prince of Crime went on a killing spree in the third act), and so I can’t wait to see how he works into the narrative in the remaining issues.

If you’ve not been reading Detective Comics these past few months, you’ve been missing out.  It’s a shame that we’re now entering the endgame of this  particular saga, with the DC Relaunch in September drawing ever closer.  The good news is that Snyder will be jumping over to Batman #1 with the arrival of the New 52, and so I’m pretty sure that title is in good hands.

Grant Morrison’s Batman

Hey folks!  I originally wrote this as part of my Comic Book Club series on Project Fanboy, but I thought I’d share it here too: a spotlight on Grant Morrison’s run on Batman. In the past, I’ve devoted whole blocks of columns to debating the validity of the superhero genre, with part of that extended analysis tackling the question of whether or not established, iconic superheroes can still be relevant. It’s a debate that often rages in comic fan circles: are these characters only around for the opportunities they offer as a brand, in licensing, merchandise and adaptation into other mediums, or are they genuinely capable of carrying great comic book stories?

While it’s true that often the tenured superheroes of Marvel and DC are reduced to a cyclical life of jumping from one crossover event to the next, treading water in stories that are more about keeping in line their continuity than saying anything meaningful, this needn’t always be the case. I’m not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater and suggest that, because this is often the case, we should dismiss these characters entirely. Rather, I’m of the opinion that – to paraphrase a famous heroic trademark – with great brand recognition comes great responsibility, and I rather optimistically believe that the most famous heroes deserve stories worthy of their status, and that Marvel and DC should be striving to have their best creators bringing their A-game to their most valuable commodities, not only maintaining the legacy of that character, but bringing something new to it. Sadly, it doesn’t always work out like that. But every so often, a creator jumps on a long-running book with an approach that makes a decades-old character feel fresh and exciting all over again. Such has been the case, I believe, with Grant Morrison’s run on Batman.

Of course, anyone who lurks in enough comic book message boards will have a good idea of how polarizing Grant Morrison’s run has been. I have encountered a few people who despise Morrison’s approach so much that they have the entire Batman line of books on boycott until Morrison’s tenure as the architect of their direction has ended. It seems like some comic fans want to have their cake and eat it. They bemoan the stagnation of the superhero genre and its cyclical nature, but when someone tries something out of the box they panic. “Oh no, he’s doing something DIFFERENT!?!?!” One common complaint is that Morrison is spoiling what works about Batman, because so many classic Batman stories have been gritty noirs and so any subsequent stories of worth must repeat that approach. Morrison doesn’t “get” Batman, they would tell you, and he would rather just write pretentious gibberish than a proper Batman story. I disagree with this response, obviously, and believe that this will come to be viewed as one of the definitive runs in the character’s history. Far from not “getting” Batman, I believe that this run has been to the Dark Knight what All Star Superman was to Superman: a celebration of what makes the character great and unique even amongst other superheroes, incorporating significant elements from throughout the character’s varied history and revisiting them through the prism of Morrison’s own distinct authorial voice.

This becomes immediately apparent right from the beginning of Batman and Son, the first graphic novel volume of collected issues from the run. We open with what would be considered a climactic moment in your average Batman story: with The Joker holding Batman in dire straits, his latest insane scheme close to fruition:

I did it! I finally killed Batman! In front of a bunch of vulnerable, disabled kids!!!! Now get me Santa Claus!

Jumping into the deep-end, as far as opening statements go. Right from the start, Morrison is capturing a sense of a classic Batman moment, and immediately be begins subverting it. We see Batman drawing a gun and shooting The Joker in the face, intending to kill him. Then we realize it’s not Batman at all, but an imposter who the real Batman interferes and stops. Already the story feels off-kilter, like something’s not quite right. And in the background, written repeatedly into the graffiti that populates the city, we see the phrase, “Zur En Arrh”. Morrison is sowing the seeds for his multi-year epic from the very earliest pages of his run, giving us a sense of how connected a tapestry the whole story is.

Following on from this bold opening, the rest of “Chapter One: Building a Better Batmobile” reads a bit like an extended epilogue, what might happen after your average Batman story finishes. We learn that, with the defeat of The Joker, nearly all Gotham’s major supervillains are behind bars, and that Gotham is – comparatively speaking, at least – safe and quiet. Morrison devotes some time into reminding us of Batman’s status quo – Robin, Alfred, his double life as a billionaire playboy. And then in the issue’s closing pages, he throws a wrench into this status quo with the revelation that Batman has a son, Damian, who has been secretly raised by Talia al Ghul. The subsequent issues give us another example of things being thrown off-kilter, the inclusion of Damian disrupting the typical Batman/Robin dynamic.

This idea of Batman being a step off, of things not sitting quite right, is made explicit with “Chapter Five: Three Ghosts of Batman”, arguably the issue where the saga that runs up to (and even beyond) Batman RIP truly gets going. In this issue, Batman faces off against a corrupt cop who turns out to be an insane, hulking brute in a modified Batman costume. It’s a fight he loses badly, with Batman’s narration on page 20 of the chapter explaining why:

Gets me thinking about the other cop. In the Batman uniform. The one who shot The Joker. And a series of locks open in my head. And I’m thinking about the files in the black casebook. When I shouldn’t be thinking at all.

With the following chapter, “The Black Casebook”, it becomes clear that it’s not only us who feel like this story isn’t clicking the way it is supposed to, but Batman himself is feeling it, and not only that, but this could be a deliberate ploy by an unseen foe, as suggested by Bruce Wayne across the 6th and 7th pages of the chapter:

Guy beat the hell out of me. I thought he was going to break my back, like Bane did. He even looked like Bane… as if… as if he was designed to trigger my worst fears…he dosed himself with Hugo Strange’s monster serum and daily venom shots.

Note the references to Bane and Hugo Strange. Morrison is showing a recurring motif of drawing from Batman’s history, in this case referring to the two villains who came closest to “breaking” Batman and defeating him. Bane is the better known example, given that he literally broke Batman’s back and put him out of commission in Knightfall. But years before that took place, Hugo Strange was also able to conquer Batman. Pre-Crisis, as collected in Strange Apparitions, Hugo Strange kidnapped Batman and unmasked him as Bruce Wayne, discovering Batman’s true identity and then briefly taking his place: a feat which at that point had never been achieved. Post-Crisis, in the Prey story-arc, Hugo Strange again figured out Batman’s true identity, and used the knowledge to bring Bruce Wayne to a stage of near mental collapse. Any foe wanting to decisively defeat Batman would be well served to take cues from Bane and Hugo Strange, as Bruce recognizes. And so we get our introduction to Dr. Hurt – who would be the ultimate overarching Batman villain of the next few years – though at this stage we don’t yet know it. The closest we get is an oblique reference to him on page 6, where, in a dream sequence, we see his silhouette, with Damian informing Bruce, “Father, the third ghost is the worst of them all.”

Against the backdrop of this overarching narrative, Batman and Son also contains two ostensibly standalone tales which tangentially enrich the larger storyline. “The Clown at Midnight” – billed in the graphic novel as an “Interlude” – is an unusual piece, given that it’s written entirely in prose. Though ostensibly a standalone tale, it introduces the motif of red and black foreshadowing death that would recur through the rest of the run, as well as establishing a darker, more deformed Joker that would resurface in Batman R.I.P. Meanwhile, “Chapter Seven: Bethlehem” is another apparent standalone story set in the future, where Bruce Wayne is long dead and Damian Wayne is the city’s current Batman. This story, originally released as Batman #666, dealt with the idea of the Devil being the nemesis pulling the strings in the present-day story, an idea which would remain one of the most popular theories of Dr. Hurt’s true nature as the story progressed.

As well as tying into the larger narrative, these standalone stories are also fine examples of how Morrison examines the near-mythical status of the Batman lore. “Bethlehem” presents to us an idea Morrison as revisited often, that the Batman legacy is practically self-creating, endlessly repeating itself in a cycle. Even far in the future, we have an orphaned boy growing to become Batman, a Gordon heading the police force, and a Gotham plagued with a rogues gallery that acts as a dark reflection of its Batman. “The Clown at Midnight” explores the notion of The Joker as a similarly transcendent entity, but with more ambiguous results:

Like a grub growing all wrong in a tiled cocoon, like a caterpillar liquefying to filth in its own nightmares, or a fetus dissolving in sewage and sour milk, the Joker dreams, awake. His is the mal ojo, the evil eye. He wills Death upon the world.

This is one of several examples of descriptions of The Joker characterizing him not just as a villain, but as an elemental force of evil. When he is called “the archnemesis” on the story’s eighth page, the wording is interesting. It’s not “Batman’s archnemesis”, but “the archnemesis”, an enemy to all, the definitive villain.

But with the overblown prose and fevered descriptions that don’t necessarily make coherent sense, we get a sense that the very telling of the story is tainted by The Joker’s deluded imaginings, as if The Joker is being described the way he views himself more than the way he actually is. One of the most telling lines in this regard comes 16 pages in:

He tries to remember how the doctors in Arkham say he has no Self, and maybe they’re right, or maybe just guessing. Maybe he is a new human mutation, bred of slimy industrial waters, spawned in a world of bright carcinogens and acid rains. Maybe he is a model for 21st-century big-time multiplex man, shuffling selves like a croupier deals cards, to buffer the shocks and work some alchemy that might just turn the lead of tragedy and horror into the fierce, chaotic gold of the laughter of the damned. Maybe he is special, and not just a gruesomely scarred, mentally-ill man addicted to an endless cycle of self-annihilating violence. Stranger things have happened.

Here Morrison simultaneously revisits and calls into question the concept of The Joker he first introduced in Arkham Asylum, of him having a kind of “super-sanity”, of him being a prototype of 21st Century man, a grim beacon of where our civilization could be headed. He goes into detail here, building up what happened to The Joker like it could have been a seismic shift in human history, a turning point for mankind. Then, in the final couple of sentences, he deflates the notion with a suggestion that no, perhaps The Joker is just a deranged, ultimately pathetic little man, given power only by how others have granted him this mythical status.

And here we see the chasm between the myths of Batman and The Joker, one that has been further heightened with the time-travelling antics of this year’s The Return of Bruce Wayne. The Joker obsessively, endlessly creates and recreates himself, relishing in his nicknames and the fruitless attempts to understand him. He strives eternally to create his own myth, shaping himself in response to Batman, always leeching off him (note the numerous ways The Joker is compared to an insect in the story, adding to these “leech” connotations). But as I said above, Morrison presents the notion that with Batman, the myth has taken on a life of its own, how forces beyond comprehension have shaped Bruce Wayne into an elemental force for good, and creating in Batman a symbol that is bigger than Bruce Wayne the man, one that, as the opening line of Batman R.I.P. tells us, “will never die.”

While Batman and Son lays out some fascinating groundwork, it is with The Black Glove that the central mystery truly gains momentum, and it becomes clear how much Morrison’s run is built around it. And of course, like many of the great Batman stories, a mystery lies at the core. After all, this is the world’s greatest detective we’re talking about. But rather than opting for another whodunit, the mystery here is all-encompassing, bordering on the metatextual, calling into question the very nature of Batman. There are many strands, covering a long period of time and many players. At times it’s all hard to keep track of, but that’s because Morrison is not underestimating us. He wants us to think like Batman, presenting him with a baffling, nigh-unsolvable riddle, locked inside a puzzle box, wrapped up in an enigma, a mystery worthy of him, and challenging us to keep up.

The 3-part opening story of The Black Glove, “The Island of Mister Mayhew” – with some stunning art by the always-excellent J.H. Williams III – reintroduces the old Silver Age concept of the Batmen of Many Nations, bringing them together once more as the Club of Heroes. By showing how the idea of Batman has inspired similar heroes to emerge all over the world, adapting the broad strokes of the concept to suit their own cultures, once again revisits this idea of Batman as mythic icon. It also helps Morrison expand his cast of recurring players, with Knight and Squire showing up again in Batman R.I.P. and later in Batman & Robin (and now starring in their own miniseries written by Paul Cornell and drawn by Jimmy Broxton, which comes highly recommended), and other heroes set to return in Batman Inc.

It soon becomes clear that some members of the Club of Heroes are better at “being Batman” than others, and that none of them are quite Batman’s equal, with Knight even stating that they are “all in awe of Batman.” With the various Batman analogues introduced and established – all gathered on the remote island of reclusive billionaire John Mayhew – the narrative begins to unfold in the style of an Agatha Christie murder mystery with added superheroes, with a mysterious assailant picking the heroes off one by one. It is in this story that we’re introduced to the Black Glove, with a monologue by an unseen figure in the opening page:

Be assured. The Black Glove is a seal of absolute quality and ruthlessness. The Black Glove aims to deliver a deluxe service high stakes experiences at the very highest levels of the international game. Our esteemed clientele see no virtue in thinking small, nor do we. This weekend, the Black Glove settles the age-old question once and for all. Which is strongest? Good? Or evil?

In this opening page alone, some of Morrison’s recurring motifs re-emerge. The dialogue once again demonstrates good and evil being acted out on a grand, mythic scale. It has become unfashionable in recent decades for villains to outright refer to themselves as evil, but here – and repeatedly in future – Dr. Hurt does so with relish. Any by implication, establishing himself as the ultimate evil sets up his opponent – namely, Batman – as the ultimate good. As for the visuals on this first page, the central image is one of a ball being tossed onto a roulette wheel, setting the game in motion. Red and black spinning around on a wheel. As introduced in “The Clown at Midnight”, red and black act as a harbinger of death. Taking this into consideration, now skim through the book. Look at how dominant in the color scheme the pairing of red and black is. Once it’s in your mind, you’ll see it everywhere; you can’t get away from it. Even the cover is red and black!

At this early stage, we don’t yet know of Dr. Hurt. All we know about this faceless adversary is this name, the Black Glove. Despite being largely off-panel throughout this story, the Black Glove’s presence casts a long shadow over the rest of the characters and events. This is masterfully visualized by Williams through a repeated trick of drawing certain dramatic moments in panels shaped like a giant hand, creating a tangible sense of events being shaped and orchestrated by the Black Glove, of the Black Glove being all around our heroes and closing in.

The collection of issues that make up the second half of The Black Glove are where the scope of the mystery and the challenge that lies before Batman become clear, with the apparently disparate threads introduced throughout the run up until this point – the Black Glove, Damian, the three Batmen, the devil, the shifting psyche of The Joker, John Mayhew and his films, the Club of Heroes, the black casebook, Zur en Arrh, red and black – all start to weave together into a disturbing whole.

One chapter that is packed particularly densely with intrigue and possible clues unifying these elements is “Joe Chill in Hell”, a flashback/fevered hallucination (it’s left ambiguous as to which it is) experienced by an unconscious, dreaming Batman. Here, the events of the Silver Age story “Robin Dies at Dawn” are recalled and slightly altered. In the original story, Batman volunteers to spend 10 days in an isolation chamber as part of a military experiment (A general tells him, in inimitable Silver Age style, “By volunteering for this test you’ve made a remarkable contribution to space medicine.”) and while unconscious dreams of being indirectly responsible for Robin’s death. Morrison updates the story to have Batman’s motivation for taking part in the experiment be a desire to experience The Joker’s mental state to better understand him, and by fashioning out of the story’s nameless scientist the figure of Dr. Hurt, the “Big Bad” of this whole saga.

The psychedelic experiences he had while in this condition turn out to be some of Batman’s loopier adventures from the 1950s and 1960s – the ones that involved him travelling to space and the like – and working them back into Batman’s canonical continuity. Morrison has long taken the stance that the grim, borderline-psychotic avenger of the Miller era that has since been so heavily popularized is only part of who Batman is, and that all eras of his evolution should be given some credit in shaping who he is, even the periods many prefer to forget. But in reviving all these old stories, Morrison is also reinventing, giving them his own spin to fit them into the story he’s telling and his vision of the character. This is done in an effectively chilling manner for Bat-Mite, the perky little nuisance from the Fifth Dimension who had been long forgotten in the modern era. Here he returns as the voice in Batman’s head, the gatekeeper to all those repressed memories coming flooding back, but while he looks as harmless and cartoony as ever, we see a menacing-looking creature with pointed teeth and glowing green eyes lurking over his shoulder, apparently operating him like a puppet. This is never explained or even directly addressed in the script in any of his appearances through the course of the narrative.

In these final few chapters, the sense of impending doom is palpable. By this point, Batman R.I.P. had been solicited, and these issues were the countdown to the mysterious, cryptically-marketed Batman event. In the closing pages of “Batman Dies at Dawn”, the second-last chapter of The Black Glove, Batman’s narration sets up the climactic struggle that approaches:

If my hypothetical ultimate enemy can be imagined, I can’t help considering the possibility that he actually exists… And if he exists… if the king of crime is real…is he telling me his name?

That final question is juxtaposed against the image of Batman holding a black glove. And the next panel, recalling the chapter’s title, shows the dawn approaching.

After The Black Glove comes Batman R.I.P., the culmination of all the slow-boil plotting and cumulative sense of dread that has carried through the entire run up until this point. I remember the intense speculation about this event before it started, with fans wondering if Batman was actually going to die during the event, and if so, how. Others preemptively damned the whole idea, talking about how killing off Batman was a pointless stunt that would never stick months before any actual death scene had happened. In fact, I may have mentioned this before, but I think much of the negative backlash this story received boiled down to false advertising, as – spoiler alert – Batman doesn’t die in it. Yes, there’s a glimpse at fanboy logic: complain for every issue about how stupid it is to kill Batman, then when the story is done complain about feeling cheated because Batman didn’t die as promised. I maintain that the worst thing about Batman R.I.P. is its title, as it sets up the expectations for one kind of Batman story, when in fact it turns out to be another type of story entirely.

However, it certainly starts on a suitably foreboding note, even if the very first page of the story gives us the reassuring message of, “You’re wrong! Batman and Robin will never die!” Morrison outright tells us not to draw conclusions from our expectations, that he couldn’t kill off Batman even if he wanted to. But after this, the rest of the opening chapter, “Midnight in the House of Hurt”, is about the dark forces gathering, all the disparate threats of Morrison’s run – many off-panel presences until now – coming together to conspire against Batman. Dr. Hurt, the Black Glove, the Club of Villains, the new, darker, Joker, all show up here, all being revealed as having a part to play in the plan that will destroy Batman once and for all. And note, in The Joker’s chilling entry into the story, the palette shifts so that the only colors on the page are black and red.

But it is with the second chapter, “Batman in the Underworld”, that we truly get a sense of Batman being faced with insurmountable odds. On page 7, Dr. Hurt sets up his credentials as to why he will be able to crush Batman where all others have failed:

No one knows him better than I do. The extreme lengths to which our boy has gone to make himself strong are powerful indicators of the weakness he feels he must overcome. That weakness is still there, inside. The fracture that will break the man.

This fracture is linked to a trigger phrase planted in Batman’s mind by Hurt during the isolation chamber experiments: Zur en Arrh. The phrase that has been popping up everywhere since the very beginning of Morrison’s run, the seeds for Batman’s destruction carefully sown right at the foundations of the story. The precise power of this phrase and the nature of the fracture Hurt speaks of are up for speculation. But I have an idea, one that I will share later on.

Here, we see Batman fall, taken down with relative ease through Hurt’s “Zur en Arrh” trigger phrase. But as well as the physical and mental dismantling of Batman, we get perhaps the most damaging dismantling of all, in love interest Jezebel Jet’s comments to Bruce Wayne on page 12: the dismantling of the Batman myth:

It was so brave of you, Bruce, so ingenious, to make yourself into the great Dark Knight who wasn’t there for you when you needed him. But all this… this is a disturbed little boy’s response to his parents’ death… you’re over thirty years old. It can’t go on. You have to stop and take a deep breath. You could use your wealth and influence in other ways. You have to think about what you’re doing to yourself and to impressionable young people. You need to talk to somebody. My father was shot dead in front of me too, Bruce. But these sad, blood-splattered little super hero costumes… this gigantic, underground museum of death and technology… oh, Bruce. Poor Bruce. What if you’re not well?

It is later revealed that Jezebel Jet is working with the Black Glove to destroy Batman. And in that context, her stance here makes total sense. Killing Batman the man is a pointless exercise if Batman the idea is still alive. This is an idea that works on a meta-textual level too. Batman can be killed off, vaporized, chopped up into little pieces, it doesn’t matter. He’ll be brought back, resurrected somehow, because that’s how comics work, and the character has remained popular and alive in people’s imagination all these decades. The only way we can truly kill Batman as a fictional entity is to deflate the myth, which is what Jezebel attempts to do here by picking out how nonsensical, childish and crazy the whole concept of Batman is.

So far, we have what seems like a pretty conventional “ultimate threat against our hero” story. But it is with the third chapter onwards that things go headlong over the deep-end, and things take a turn for the strange. Bruce Wayne, pumped full of drugs and left on the streets as a vagrant with no memory of who he is, through a series of psychedelic experiences manages to claw together a primal, savage, rudimentary version of his Batman persona: the Batman of Zur en Arrh. And Bat-Mite shows up again. On page 5 of Chapter 4, “Miracle on Crime Alley”, we’re treated to this mind-bending sequence:

In opposition to Jezebel Jet’s deconstruction of the Batman myth, this is an example of building it back up, showing the stature and power of Batman, the cogs and quirks of circumstance all combining to create him. The very title of the chapter, “Miracle on Crime Alley”, is designed as a testament to the power of the idea of Batman.

And then in the final chapter, “Hearts in Darkness”, despite further attempts to break him, Bruce Wayne recovers himself, Batman is restored, and he beats the bad guys. Indeed, after his systematic deconstruction over the course of Batman R.I.P., this last chapter reads like a tribute to how awesome Batman is, presenting how far ahead he always plans and how well prepared he is for everything as a superpower more fantastical than any ability possessed by Superman:

206 bones, five major organs, 60,000 miles of blood vessels. All it takes is time. Days. Months. Years, spent memorizing the finite ways there are to hurt and break a man. Preparing for all of them. I’ve escaped from every conceivable deathtrap. Ten times. A dozen times.

Batman can escape from any physical predicament he’s placed in. He’d already prepared a failsafe against Hurt’s psychological attack. He knew Jezebel Jet was part of the plan against him all along. Batman cannot be beaten. And faced with this larger-than-life, iconic, mythical heroism, the petty villainy of this latest “ultimate threat” quickly falls apart. But while everything else is solved, some degree of mystery remains around Dr. Hurt. Is he the Devil? Thomas Wayne? Something else? On page 25, Hurt relishes in this enigma:

I am the hole in things, Bruce. The enemy, the piece that can never fit, there since the beginning.

But even Dr. Hurt is deflated under scrutiny, not as omnipotent and elemental as he likes to think himself. The Joker, of all people, gives a comprehensive argument on page 17 for why Hurt pales in comparison to Batman:

Get it!? But it doesn’t matter, see, because every single time I try to think outside his toybox, he builds a new box around me. Apophenia. I’ve been driven literally insane. Trying to get him to loosen up. Well, now. Now it’s your turn. The Black Glove quivering in an insane asylum. Exactly where he wants you. Now, you’re in his box, too. You can never prepare for the unexpected, the well-timed punch line. The wild card. Devil is double is deuce, my dear Doctor. And Joker trumps deuce.

This last part brings up another interesting footnote to this concept – the idea that not only can these poseurs not match up to Batman, they can’t match up to The Joker, either. The Joker’s final taunt here would be confirmed years later in Batman and Robin, when The Joker is the one who finally kills Dr. Hurt. And earlier, in Chapter 5, “The Thin White Duke of Death”, we see The Joker yawning as Le Bossu describes his villainous modus operandi – oh so tedious to one so indefinable as The Joker. Morrison jumps back and forth from The Joker being just a lunatic trying to make himself out as having mythical power, and toying with him, much like Batman, being “special” in his own right. It is appropriate for the character that we’re unable to quite pin down where he fits in the scheme of things.

So Batman R.I.P. ends with Batman still alive (his actual “death” would come soon afterwards in Final Crisis, though even here it was soon revealed he wasn’t actually dead), once more triumphing over evil and escaping apparently unscathed. But the “happy ending” is complicated by a jarring one-page epilogue that marks the very last page of Batman R.I.P.:

Could this be the “fracture” lying at the core of Bruce Wayne’s psyche that Dr. Hurt alluded to? Zur en Arrh. Zorro in Arkham. We get a sense that this is a memory repressed and hidden, that the life’s mission that Bruce embarked upon in his father’s name would have been viewed as a foolish madman’s errand by Thomas Wayne himself. Again, the idea that the myth of Batman being damaged is the most grievous wound of all.

This saga, from Batman and Son through The Black Glove to Batman R.I.P., is not even the end of the story. With Final Crisis, Batman and Robin and The Return of Bruce Wayne, the narrative would enter a new phase and become even more complex, incorporating elements such as time travel and further exploring the notion of Batman’s symbolic power. Even now, Morrison’s opus continues on in Batman Inc, taking us into the next phase of Batman’s career. It will be interesting to see how Grant Morrison’s run looks when it’s all wrapped up, how readers of future generations will look at it. I believe the conflicting reactions to the book now are largely driven by current readers’ concerns about how it fits with the chronology and continuity of the other books existing in the shared universe around it. But given some degree of separation from that, looking back, I think most will recognize Grant Morrison’s Batman as one of the most potent statements on the character put into print.