ComicsAlliance continues its Top 10 Best Comics of 2010 with…
2. Grant Morrison’s Batman books
Why does a monthly superhero comic about a rich New Englander who dresses up as a flying rodent rate amongst the best comics of the year?
Two words: Grant Morrison.
When you look at the initial pitch in my first sentence, the concept of Batman sounds like a lo-fi indie crime comic: Kid is happy; kid’s parents are killed; kid involves himself deeper and deeper into a neo-noir gothic nightmare. This was basically the character’s ongoing narrative for countless decades: Batman has friends; Batman faces trauma; Batman loses trust in friends and goes off the reservation; friends remind Batman that he is a rich New Englander and not an actual bat. He apologizes to his family, rinse and repeat.
Morrison took the narrative behind one of the most popular figures in American cultural history and inverted, subverted and converted him to every circumstance and belief system available. In the past few years, Bruce Wayne has been a problem-solver, a silent avenging cowboy, a detective, a globetrotting super-spy, a mystic, a visionary, a father, and a son — and that’s just off the top of my head.
He’s traveled to England, Gibraltar, Japan, Nanda Parbat, Abu Dhabi and Yemen. He’s transcended time and space to become a living idea — to inject the very mythological concept of the dark avenger of the night into every gene of the DC Universe’s cosmic DNA. He’s told sordid crime stories about corruption and loss and sweeping superhero epics about the triumph of the human spirit. Yet behind it all has been a deep love and respect for the character and what he means.
It’s no exaggeration to call this the best longform Batman comic of all time. There have maybe been more focused, direct punches to the face — Year One, the individual parts of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight saga, Dark Knight Dark City, Darwyn Cooke’s Batman: Ego — but that’s not the canvas on which Morrison is working. This isn’t a tightly plotted, perfectly self-reflective work like All Star Superman.
It’s a sprawling epic, organically constructed over years, the result not only of the changes in Morrison’s life but also the give-and-take between the creator and the reader that’s come to be the defining mark of these books. I honestly have no idea if this book will read as well as a collected unit, without the anticipation and mystery and discussion and obsession.
But I will say this: in terms of being a serialized adventure comic, a big mystery that the readers have to solve alongside the character, and a catalyst for fan interaction and debate — not to mention being a well-characterized, usually beautifully drawn story — this is pretty much the zenith. Where it is flawed, those flaws are part of its structure and genre: fill-in artists, irregular release schedules, the schizophrenic jumping-around brought about by multiple connected titles being released simultaneously but taking place in different points in the narrative. Morrison’s Batman is a writhing, slithering beast living within the limitations and traditions of the modern superhero comic, distorting them, absorbing them, moving around them and reflecting them. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Other comics have made me laugh, made me cry, made me throw the book across the room in frustration, made me apathetic. Morrison’s Batman is the first one to make me friends.