Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Batman And Robin: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Tolerate Grant Morrison

So me and Grant Morrison are not the best of friends. I’ll be the first to admit that it could be me, and not him. I just don’t get it. While others see the best comics storyteller working today. Someone who understands and utilizes the form in a way that’s almost preternatural. I on the other hand do not.

I get no charge from Morrison's work. To be frank he’s kind of a bore, someone coasting on an overrated reputation, chaos magicks, and an ego that makes Alan Moore’s seem healthy. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I read Final Crisis with an ever growing sense of despair it. I didn’t understand that. And I mean that on a very basic narrative level. I couldn’t follow what was happening. It was like a chemistry book with superheroes doodled in it. Stuff like Animal Man and The Filth, where disappointingly (and in The Filth’s case depressingly) shallow, based upon their reputation. And as for his “classics” like All Star Superman, and Arkham Asylum. Well these too where problematic. For something that supposedly “got the essence of Superman perfectly” I can’t help but think he had remarkably few qualms about genetically engineering peoples fates. Arkham Asylum was also problematic. Though McKean’s art was beautiful (and also utterly inept narratively) and Morrison did script some arresting moments, the whole thing was too clever by half, and came out as the work of someone who didn’t really like Batman.

Which was kind of what I thought about Batman RIP the first time I read it. Though in interest of truth in criticism that particular piece works one hell of a lot better as a whole then in parts and featured a few truly stellar sequences. Still I can’t help but feel that it’s a flawed work at the very least.

I mention all of this only to underline how odd I found it when Morrison became responsible for one of the best Goddamn Batman stories I’ve ever read. A story centered around not one but two gimmicks that I was deeply skeptical about at first. It’s sort of amazing a true classic of the genre (And can we take a moment to savor the irony that it shares the name with the other Batman And Robin? OK Irony savored. Moving On).

So many comic writers seem like kids at a toybox dragging out two action figures to bang together for the thousandth time. And one thing I’ll say about Morrison, he’s never afraid to bring new elements into play. At the climax of this issue there are now two characters who feel like they’re destined to be lasting parts of The Batman universe, it feels like things matter, and frankly it’s a rush.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Batman And Robin is based on two Morrison elements that I found, at the very least, quite questionable. Morrison giving Wayne a son in the form of the petulant, vicious Damien, and Morrison sending Wayne back to the caveman era to go write shit on the wall (I think? I’m not going to lie I have little to no idea what happened at the end of Final Crisis). Taking these two unstable elements, Morrison has somehow spun gold. Telling the story of Dick Grayson, attempting to fill Batman’s big shoes, while at the same time turning his sociopathic son into a somewhat acceptable Robin, while battling a new villain Professor Pig, and his creepy creepy Doll people, made for a compelling story. And while Morrison’s first two issues in the arc worked fine, in the third one he brings it all together.

It’s like this issue allowed me to briefly see the Grant Morrison everyone is always talking about. The one who knows how to write a scene like Professor Pyg’s monologue, which could ONLY work in comics. It works because the best version of it is happening in your head as it happens on the page. As a result it’s hilarious, disturbing, terrifying, and even a little sad, with a great punch line to boot (A punch line that incidentally happened to capture my exact reaction after reading The Filth).

Morrison it seems has also finally figured out how to write for Damien, by giving him just a smidgen of a moral center (though so much as to spoil the fun Morrison has writing him) he makes him infinitely more relatable. And by giving Damien his first failure, he sets up what appears to be one hell of a thread for the next arc in the series. All while still finding the time to work in one of the best moments from Batman RIP.

Batman And Robin seems vital in a way very few Comics appear these days. In a medium where every story is just a retcon away from obsolescence, Morrison’s story seems to matter. He’s setting up something great here, and when he brings Quitely back to end the run, I think it’ll be very clear that this is one of the true, few classics of superhero genre.

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