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Batman: The Long Road Home

I’ve been having a grand old time, over the past six or so months, re-reading Grant Morrison’s years-long Batman epic, as well as many of the other Batman stories published around the same time, in the last few years of DC Comics’ pre-“New 52” continuity.

You can follow these links to read my previous reviews of the last several years of Batman stories: Part 1 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, part 2 of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, Batman: The Animated series’ Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, the post-death-of-Bruce-Wayne stories that culminated in Neil Gaiman’s Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, the re-launch of the Bat-books under the Batman: Reborn bannerPart 3 of Grant Morrison’s run, the launch of the new Batman and Robin seriesPart 4 of Grant Morrison’s run, Time and the Batman, and Part 5 of Grant Morrison’s run, The Return of Bruce Wayne.

DC Comics killed off Batman in their 2008 company-wide crossover Final Crisis, but just a little over a year later Bruce Wayne returned in the six-issue mini-series creatively titled The Return of Bruce Wayne.  (Both those stories were written by Grant Morrison.)  This set the stage for the final act of Mr. Morrison’s Batman saga: Batman, Incorporated, which I will be writing about soon.  The return of Bruce Wayne set about another large re-shuffling of the other Batman books.  While Grant Morrison’s tale got a lot of attention, there were some great stories being told in the other books and, in a bizarre turn, by the time DC Comics re-launched their entire comics universe in “The New 52,” Mr. Morrison’s Batman story had been shifted to the sidelines.  (More on that when I write about Batman, Incorporated, soon.)

Bruce Wayne: The Long Road Home — Setting the stage for the post-Return of Bruce Wayne stories, DC released a series of one-shots, spotlighting different characters in the Batman universe.  I like the idea of giving some attention to the Bat-universe’s many supporting players, and certainly the hook of taking this opportunity to show how Bruce Wayne’s return affected these other characters, and updating the audience on their current status quos, was a good idea.  The execution left a little something to be desired, as the story that connected the one-shots, of Bruce donning a new costumed identity so as to spy on and evaluate all of these other characters, seemed a little dopey to me.  Bruce Wayne has ninja-like training, so he could certainly observe other characters without being seen if he wanted to.  The reasoning for him to create another identity and get involved in the goings-on seemed flimsy to me.  With different writers/artists on each story, the quality varied significantly from chapter to chapter.  Ultimately, this was eminently skippable.  (Though I did enjoy seeing Vicki Vale get some nice focus in the stories, in a sub-plot that ran through many of the one-shots.)

The House of Hush (Streets of Gotham #16-21)– Paul Dini had been weaving quite an epic Batman story of his own in the pages of Detective Comics and then, following the “death” of Bruce Wayne, in the re-launched title Streets of Gotham.  His best story from his run was the “Heart of Hush” saga, in which Mr. Dini focused on the long-simmering attraction between Batman and Catwoman, and brought back the villain Hush.  Hush was an intriguing villain created by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee for their “Hush” mystery story years earlier, but unfortunately that story — and the ones that followed — really made a confusing mess of Hush, leaving me totally unclear as to who exactly the character was and what his back-story was.  Mr. Dini cut through all of that, creating a clear, compelling back-story for Hush and turning him into the criminal mastermind — and real threat to Bruce Wayne — that he had been always intended to be.  With “The House of Hush,” Mr. Dini returned to those story-lines — Bruce’s relationship with Selina Kyle and Hush’s continuing threat.  When this new story begins, Hush has escaped from the Bat-team’s custody and, with his face surgically altered to resemble that of Bruce Wayne, he’s in a position to make a lot of public trouble for the real Bruce.  On top of that, an aging crime-lord with a major grudge against the Wayne family has finally been released from prison after almost 40 years.  Rather than retiring, his only goal is to put a bullet in the brain of Bruce Wayne.  “The House of Hush” is a terrific story-line, a tense, street-level crime caper, gorgeously illustrated by Dustin Nguyen.  I love the Dini/Nguyen team, and I’m sorry that “The House of Hush” represents, for now at least, their final pairing, as well as the end of Mr. Dini’s run on Batman.  My only complaint about “The House of Hush” is that it doesn’t really feel like the end of the story.  This feels more like a middle chapter in what could have been a “Hush trilogy,” but with the DC Universe re-launch it doesn’t look like any additional installments will be coming. That’s a shame. (I also have to mention that there is a small side-story about a young boy from Leslie Thompkins’ clinic who winds up captured by a gangster Sallie Guzzo.  In the final issue, there’s a suggestion of some horrifying sexual violence having been committed against the poor boy.  That really raised my eyebrows as pushing the boundaries of content in an all-ages Batman book.  But what upset me even more is that there was no resolution given to the kid’s story — we never see what happens to him.  Particularly after seeing him in such terrible jeopardy, I expected him to be involved in the finale, or for us to at least see a moment of resolution, good or bad, to his story.  That never came, which feels to me like a huge oversight.  Weird.)

Dark Knight vs. White Knight (Batman and Robin #17-25) — Following the death of Bruce Wayne in Final Crisis, the newly-launched Batman and Robin series was Grant Morrison’s flagship title, in which he chronicled the adventures of the new Batman (and former Robin) Dick Grayson, and his new partner Robin (Damian Wayne, the son of Bruce Wayne).  Following The Return of Bruce Wayne, Mr. Morrison left the Batman and Robin title, leading to a series of stories — still chronicling the Dick Grayson/Damian Wayne Batman & Robin pairing — written and drawn by a series of different creators.  In “The Sum of Her Parts,” Paul Cornell and Scott McDaniel create a new super-villain — a beautiful Gotham socialite who gets shot in the head but mysteriously survives,then returns to wreak vengeance on her enemies.  I love the idea of creating an original new villain, but Scott McDaniel’s cartoony depiction of this woman with a huge hole in her head was laughable rather than menacing.  More successful was Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s story “Dark Knight vs. White Knight,” which features another new supervillain, in this case an angelic figure aiming to murder the families of every Gotham City super-criminal.  Patrick Gleason’s gorgeous artwork and creative panel-layouts elevate an already-solid mystery story.  (Tomasi and Gleason would continue working together, doing great work in the “New 52” re-launch of the Batman and Robin title.)  In “The Streets Run Red,” writer Judd Winick, working with artists Guillem March and Greg Tocchini, returns to the character of Jason Todd/The Red Hood (who Mr. Winick resurrected in the “Under the Hood” story-line several years before).  It’s great seeing Mr. Winick back to writing about Jason Todd, though I can’t say this story really adds all that much to Jason’s story.  Considering that this is the final pre-“New 52” story for Jason, I had expected a more definitive resolution to his story.  (This echoes my complaint about Paul Dini’s “The House of Hush,” which leads me to wonder whether these DCU creators really knew that these were going to be their final stories about these characters before the universe-wide re-launch.)  Finally, there is Batman & Robin #26, the final issue of the comic, which strangely isn’t included in the “Dark Knight vs. White Knight” collected edition.  That’s too bad, because it’s a great done-in-one story by David Hine and Greg Tocchini & Andre Bressan (under a gorgeous cover by Chris Burnham) that introduces another great new villainous character, along with some fun meta commentary on the art world.  The story has a terrific last panel.  Over-all, these post-Morrison Batman and Robin stories were fun, albeit not hugely memorable.

The Black Mirror (Detective Comics #871-881) — Far more successful is this gripping epic from writer Scott Snyder, who would go on to write the flagship Batman title after the “New 52” re-launch.  Working with artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla, Mr. Snyder crafted an intense, gritty saga in which Batman is confronted by several new villains (I love all of these original characters, it’s great to see DC’s writers and artists working to add to the Batman mythos rather than just relying on pre-existing characters), and Commissioner Gordon must confront a horror within his own family.  Mr. Snyder cleverly picks up on the mostly-ignored bit of back-story that Commissioner Gordon had a son, James, with his first wife.  (That baby was a key plot point in Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, but not much has been done with James since.)  Mr. Snyder weaves a sad, emotional story which reveals that James has always been a troubled boy.  His step-sister Barbara has always suspected that James is more than troubled, that he is psychopathic, but Gordon has tried to deny that.  When James returns to Gotham City and re-enters Gordon and Barbara’s lives, old family secrets and half-buried traumas come to a head.  I love Mr. Snyder’s fearlessness at making some major changes/additions to the Batman mythos, and in James Gordon he has created an enigmatic and terrifying new character.  Jock’s highly-stylized art is fun (reminiscent of the work of Bill Sienkiewicz, which is a huge compliment), though a little hard to follow at times.  By contrast, Francesco Francavilla’s artwork is gorgeous, filled with creative page-layouts and absolutely stunning imagery.  This is a man who should be illustrating a LOT more American comic books!!  I adore his work in these issues.  This story is a winner.

Eye of the Beholder (Batman # 704-707 & #710-712)– Meanwhile, over on the main Batman title, Tony Daniel (who illustrated several of Grant Morrison’s story-lines, including Batman R.I.P.) wrote and illustrated this story about the Chinese mob and mystical criminals.  This is an uninspired story, not one of my favorites.  I’m sure he’s a great guy, but I’m afraid I am just not a fan of Mr. Daniel’s writing or illustration — both of which seem to me to be too over-complicated for their own good.  The second story-line, that brings back Two-Face and the Riddler, wasn’t much better.  I loved the reformed-Riddler-as-Private-Eye who was a big part of Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, and I was annoyed that Mr. Daniel ruined that version of the character by turning the Riddler back into a dumb bad-guy in his previous Batman story-line.  This follow-up story doesn’t do anything to redeem Mr. Daniel’s version of the character, as we’re back to the Riddler being a fairly uninspired bad-guy.  Worst of all, the story ends with the Riddler acquiring some information as to his background (info he’d forgotten because of the amnesia the character had suffered in Mr. Daniel’s last story — don’t ask), which is a big plot-point in this story.  But we don’t get to see what the Riddler does with that info — because soon after came the “New 52” re-launch — so the whole story basically goes nowhere.  Big let-down, in my opinion.  (And yet another example of these final pre-“New 52” stories not having the finality I was hoping for.  Are you noticing a trend?)

Judgment on Gotham (Batman #708-709, Red Robin #22, Gotham City Sirens #22) — This cross-over story hasn’t been collected, and after reading it I can understand why.  It’s a mess.  I could hardly make sense of what was going on.  It seems that Azrael and some other character with a cross burned into his face think they are messengers from God preparing to destroy Gotham like Soddom and Gemorrah, unless they judge one of Gotham’s heroes — including Batman (Dick Grayson), Red Robin (former Robin Tim Drake), and Catwoman to be pure.  Of course all three fail the zealots’ test… but then they save Gotham anyway.  Let’s just move on.

The Dark Knight: Golden Dawn (Batman: The Dark Knight #1-5) — This new Batman book, The Dark Knight, was designed as a spotlight for artist David Finch, who also started writing his own stories as well.  As I recall, shipping delays led to only five issues shipping before the “New 52” re-launch.  The story starts off well.  Mr. Finch’s hyper-detailed art is fun to look at, and I enjoyed the peek into Bruce Wayne’s childhood and the moody crime story happening in present day.  But then things fall apart into silly weirdness, with devil-worshippers and the Ragman (a character I don’t really understand) and the demon Etrigan (a great character, but one who to me seems very out of place in what had been a grounded Batman story).  And having a character be named Dawn Golden (thus leading to the story’s title, a play on “the dark knight”) was just way too obvious.  Oh well.  If you shut off your brain, this is certainly a fun comic book romp and a beautiful-to-look-at Batman story, it’s just not what I had been hoping for.

So, these Batman stories were hit and miss, but I had a fun time reading them, and I’ll be back here soon with my thoughts on the conclusion of Grant Morrison’s Batman saga!

Here are links to collected editions of the stories I have reviewed above: Bruce Wayne: The Long Road Home; Streets of Gotham: House of Hush; Batman & Robin: Dark Knight vs. White Knight; Batman: The Black Mirror; Batman: Eye of the Beholder; The Dark Knight: Golden Dawn.

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