For this installment of the Bat-Quest series, I’ll be looking at the hardcover collection The Black Glove, again by Grant Morrison, that sets up the main plot in a future volume. This volume introduces the villainous Black Glove organization, that is out to destroy Batman. It, like Batman and Son has two separate plots. The first one, “The Island of Mr. Mayhew” is about Batman and Robin visiting a secret island that the so-called “International Club of Heroes” is meeting at. Things go awry, and a mystery ensues.
Now, if one is familiar with the Batman mythos, the title “The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” should be greeted with a yawn and a sarcastic “What else is new?” because perennial Bat-villain Ra’s al Ghul’s main gimmick back in the day was that he would use a special pool he called a “Lazarus Pit” to bring himself back to life after being killed. He was killed a lot. But, during a storyline called “Death and the Maidens” in 2004, Ra’s al Ghul died for real, after having run out of Lazarus Pits to use. He was finally brought back to life during an event called The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul which spanned several titles, and several writers along with Grant Morrison contributed. This book was a twisty adventure story, that featured Ra’s al Ghul switching bodies with someone multiple times, Tim Drake almost going off the deep end, and the continuing adventures of Damian Wayne.
Damian, surprisingly is less irritating than he was in “Batman and Son”, and is shown to be insecure and vulnerable beneath his cocky exterior. Dick Grayson as Nightwing livens things up, especially when they get too bogged down in Tim Drake’s self pity, and even though Morrison contributes just two issues to the gestalt he does do his usual magic, and revives the wonderfully wacky character I Ching (from Dennis O’Neil’s late 60′s run on Wonder Woman), who drops pearls of Buddhist and Taoist wisdom while kicking people in the face. Former Batman:The Animated Series showrunner Paul Dini contributes, and adds a sense of humor, but I wish the entertainingly loony Talia al Ghul had more to do in the story than just look angry. The art changes a lot, sometimes in the middle of an issue, which is odd, but it is often refreshingly cartoonish. Overall, this story was a refreshing detour from the main story arc that the next few Batman graphic novels follow, and is great fun.
For the first “real” installment in the “Bat-Quest” series, I’ll be reviewing Grant Morrison’s ”Batman and Son”. This collection is odd, because it contains three main stories each around two issues long. The first one, “Batman and Son” is about an illegitimate son Batman sired after sleeping with his archenemy’s daughter, and his sometimes flame Talia al Ghul. This kid, Damian Wayne, is an annoying little bugger, whose whining and entitled rants about how he “should” be Robin instead of the current Robin, Tim Drake grated on my nerves, but this story was actually one of the freshest and fastest moving Batman stories I’ve read in quite some time. The goofy, but sinister “Ninja Man-Bats”, the irritating, but fascinating Damian Wayne, and Batman’s unusually glib interior monologue make this first plot a fun, action packed, detail-oriented adventure story worth rereading.
I can say less for the next two plots. The second one, “The Clown at Midnight” is about the resurrection of the Joker, who was shot in the face by a Bat-impostor. It is genuinely unsettling. Morrison depicts the Joker as a demon, a personification of immortal darkness. For a Gen-Y kid like me, who was raised on Mark Hamill’s zany voice-acting portrayal of the Crown Prince of Crime in TV shows like Batman: The Animated Series, this new, diabolic joker is frightening in a way that cannot be truly described, to say nothing of Morrison’s cheesily gruesome similes (“like a caterpillar liquefying to filth in its own nightmares” reads one of the tamest of these). It seems at times that Morrison is trying too hard, and half the sentences feel like they’re screaming “Look! I’m a serious writer, I’m DEEP”.
This plot does set up a metaphor that carries over into the more confusing installments of Morrison’s Batman saga, so I had to force myself to read it. But the most bizarre of these plots is the third one, “The Three Ghosts of Batman.” The basic premise is that three Bat-impostors are roaming Gotham City, and Batman has to figure out why they’re there. This plot is gruesome at points, and wacky at others, making it disorienting. One part of this plot, an issue depicting a possible future in which Damian inherits the role of Batman, is weird and depressing, and Damian as Batman isn’t developed enough to differentiate him from Bruce Wayne as Batman, and the other part, involving Bruce Wayne in the present, is just a whole lot of set-up.
The art in the main stories, by Andy Kubert, is stellar, and is pleasing to the eye, but the art in “The Clown at Midnight” is this weird, creepy, computer animated art, which I suppose suits its horrifying story. Other than that, I’d consider Batman and Son an entertaining romp, and a thrilling opening salvo to a very long saga.
“Batman and Son”: A-
“The Clown at Midnight”: C+
“The Three Ghosts of Batman”: B+
Now, Batman has never been one of my favorite superheroes. I always thought he was too dark, too lonely, and too paranoid about other heroes. On the other hand, I have always liked the work of comic book writer Grant Morrison. I much enjoyed his work on X-Men, I loved his work relaunching the Justice League in JLA, and was awed by the ambition of his poetic interpretation of Superman, in All Star Superman. I also knew that he had written a run on Batman that was considered one of the best of all time.
I thought that maybe Grant Morrison could get me to like Batman a little more, so I read some of his Batman run, and was confused out of my wits. Every story was impenetrably dense with esoteric concepts, and non-linear story telling. Some parts were sheer genius, while others were turgid and incomprehensible. It was then I realized I was reading them OUT OF ORDER. So, I have committed myself now to reading his entire run on Batman, plus supplementary material IN ORDER so I can finally “get it”, and will document it in a review series called “Bat-Quest”.
The first story I started with was a collaboration series Morrison did with three other writers: Greg Rucka, a writer known for more down to Earth storylines, Mark Waid, an elder statesman in the comics world, and Geoff Johns, a hot shot writer with a knack for handling out of control plots. It chronicles several different story lines in the universe of the DC comics company’s superheroes, but here’s the trick: not only does every issue span just one week in a year, but after the events of another DC mega-event called Infinite Crisis, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are out of commission temporarily. While it didn’t have enough Batman to be a real entry in the series, it did have a lot of elements that would tie in to Morrison’s Batman stories later, so I made it a prologue. I loved how each writer balanced each other out. Each of their conflicting styles fused perfectly into a moving, action packed, entertaining, and uplifting story.
Morrison’s “big idea” fueled writing wasn’t as frustratingly confusing, and even added a sense of cosmic unpredictability. The most compelling plot was probably the Intergang-Renee Montoya-Question plot, which tied all the other threads together, but a close second was probably the gleefully camp Science Squad plot which redefined the old “revenge of the nerds” cliche, but doesn’t get the top spot because of Veronica Cale, a sad-sack who weighs down the otherwise joyously bombastic plot. The change of artwork in the middle of every issue was disorienting, and the Lex Luthor-Steel plot dragged, at times but overall, it was amazingly well done. The multiverse-changing conclusion had me clapping and cheering, and even crying. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys the adventures of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, but wants to try something new, and as a sort of Morrison apertif.
Simon Schama’s Citizens is an in-depth analysis of the causes and effects of the French Revolution. Before reading this book, I knew cursory information about the French Revolution, mainly through free-associated terms: Louis XVI, Bastille, Robespierre, Reign of Terror, guillotine, Napoleon. Afterward, I learned that there was a lot more causes to the Revolution than just “the poor were dissatisfied in France and revolted”. Although it may sound tedious, Citizens is actually quite entertaining. Schama works his usual historiography magic by making even the dullest of events interesting, and his irreverent, chatty prose makes the book zip along. Just when the book seems to have started to become dusty and boring, there is a cool little anecdote that spices up the story. Although Schama is regarded in “serious” history circles as a mainstream sellout, I can’t front: I really enjoyed this book.
John Green’s Paper Towns is about the exact same thing all his other books are about. A whiny middle class boy meets a mysterious woman and his life is changed forever when she turns out to not be as much of a goddess in human form as he thinks she is. My main issue with the works of John Green is exactly that: the main character often treats the girl he lusts after like a kind of obscure object of desire (shout-out to Luis Bunuel) who is outside of everything. The way the protagonist, a disaffected teen named Quentin “Q” Jacobsen makes the main girl character, Margo out to be more than human irritated me both times I read it. Margo’s own lofty hipster-ish observations on life also are borderline annoying, but the plethora of witty side characters makes up for Q and Margo’s shortcomings. There’s Ben, Q’s Rabelaisian friend who’s a bon vivant with a heart of gold, Lacey, the surprisingly 3 dimensional “popular” girl, and Radar, the pragmatic intellectual who round out the cast, and all at one point bring Q back down to earth. The writing sparkles with erudite wit, the dialogue is as sharp as a tack, and the formulaic plot moves quick, so one can overlook the several quibbles I have with this novel.
The book I’m reviewing today is Alan Moore’s seminal 1986 comic book miniseries Watchmen. This book, about a conspiracy to assassinate superheroes is full of dark twists and turns, and gives a convincing portrait of what a meta-human filled world would really be like. Although some parts of it are corny (Ozymandias’ plan was to SPOILER ALERT destroy New York City with an alien squid?), the references to the Afghan-Soviet War are dated, the plot got a little confusing near the end (wait, so what really happened with The Comedian and Silk Specter I?), and the characters are all annoying, self absorbed idiots, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, because of the deep questions it raises about power, gender, war, and the human psyche, but don’t let that scare you away: Watchmen is at turns dark, suspenseful, thought-provoking, and action packed, and is a solid mystery story on top of that. If you’re a fan of American comic books, you’ll think deeper about the ramifications of the actions of your favorite heroes, but if you’re new to comic books, Watchmen will provide a jumping in point.
The Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden #1) by Julie Kagawa
In a future world, Vampires reign. Humans are blood cattle. And one girl will search for the key to save humanity. Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a vampire city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten.
Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of them. The vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself is attacked—and given the ultimate choice. Die or become one of the monsters.
Faced with her own mortality, Allie becomes what she despises most. To survive, she must learn the rules of being immortal, including the most important: go long enough without human blood, and you will go mad.
Then Allie is forced to flee into the unknown, outside her city walls. There she joins a ragged band of humans who are seeking a legend—a possible cure to the disease that killed off most of humankind and created the rabids, the mindless creatures who threaten humans and vampires alike.
But it isn’t easy to pass for human. Especially not around Zeke, who might see past the monster inside her. And Allie soon must decide what—and who—is worth dying for. – Goodreads