Roundtable Review: ‘Batman’ #700
ComicsAlliance writers Chris Sims, Caleb Goellner, David Brothers, David Uzumeri and Laura Hudson sit down for a roundtable discussion about the newly released "Batman" #700. WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW.
David U: This week, DC Comics releases "Batman" #700 by Grant Morrison and a wide variety of artists, the first of this month's big x00-issue specials and the only one containing a single story. This is a largely standalone tale, playing with current DC continuity but not really situating itself as a big part of Morrison's overall narrative. It's split into four chapters, each with a different art team, and is basically a locked-room murder mystery of sorts that takes place across a span of 30 years, and with time travel.
Chris S: As much as I love Batman and Morrison in various combinations, I was a little underwhelmed by this one.Caleb G: I was stoked and then it... ended. I forgot there was going to be a dozen pages of pinups at the end.
David U: I think editorial and production bear a lot of blame on this issue. First off, they advertised it as this gigantic supersized special when it's actually not even as long as Return of Bruce Wayne #1. Second off, the pinups at the end aren't even original - I've seen most of them as solicited covers that were changed later. Charging me an extra dollar for a bunch of art they'd already had commissioned and sitting around, and then throwing on what I'm guessing is the internal reference sheets for the Batcave, is frankly highway robbery. At a $3.99 31-page oversized issue, there'd be a lot to recommend here. As a $4.99 "supersized special", it's a disaster.
David B: The price is a tremendous turn-off. I like three out of the five artists on the main story, but only the Quitely and Kubert pages meant anything to me. Tony Daniel and David Finch--not that great. And on the story side of things, like a lot of Morrison issues lately, I can see what he's going for, but i think he falls short of his goal. The story has the scope for a big anniversary issue, but not the execution.
Caleb G: Yeah, I felt like the story could have gone on for another 12 pages or so and then it didn't. And I just kind of sighed. I was expecting a major twist. But...he kind of just traveled through time like you'd expect.
David B: I'm not sure why this is a standalone in Batman at all, honestly. Why not slot it into Batman & Robin?
David U: Well, because the whole point of the issue is to celebrate the 700th issue of Batman. I doubt Morrison would have even written this story for any other purpose. And I mean, that's also another problem with the issue -- it's pretty much just Batman jerking off over being Batman.
David B: There's nothing in here that seems particularly timely, beyond being something that'll come up a few months down the line. It's another episode of "Batman & Robin will never die!"
Chris S: Maybe it's just me, but I would've preferred that the big anniversary issue not be quite so rooted in what's going on RIGHT NOW. I appreciate the look at the future (I loved seeing Batman Beyond and Batman 1,000,000 show up, even if I didn't care for the actual pages they were on), but I would've rather had a story that was more timeless, in the way that stuff like "Batman RIP" is timeless, or the big Mike W. Barr issue with all the Detectives.
Caleb G: Anything you guys DID like about it on your first read? I dug seeing Batman and Robin eat pizza.
Chris S: Oh, there's plenty I liked about it. I think it's a pretty good story, if a little muddled. And yes, the pizzeria was awesome. Well there's also the problem that time travel sort of negates the aspects of a locked-room mystery.
David U: The idea of the time-travel locked-room murder mystery is great, but not only does it seem a bit rushed, but there appears to be an art error in the Kubert pages that throws everything off. I'm sort of lost as to how "Batman RIP" is timeless. The pizzeria scene was great, until I realized the panel was supposed to be drawn by Quitely, and then I sighed.
David B: Yeah, there are several little bits I definitely enjoyed, mostly confined to the Quitely pages. I like Batman asking about the cop's kid, and I like that fight scene against the mutants.
Chris S: It's one of those big ideas that Morrison likes to throw out that could only work in a super-hero universe where stuff like "maybe machines" exist, but it's undercut by what it's supposed to be.
Caleb G: Anyone want to give some background info on Nichols?
David U: Professor Carter Nichols is a dude from the '40s to the '60s who hypnotized Batman and Robin through time. Seriously: they'd have time travel adventures after being hypnotized.
Chris S: Yep. They'd go over to his house, get hypnotized, and then show up in pioneer days so they could go fight Native Americans in the Batcave. Which is very close to what Morrison is doing in "Return of Bruce Wayne": Keeping the location the same but moving around in time. Batman would find his old grandfather's diary and then go "Hey, we should go back in time and check that out."
David U: He used to take them through space, too. In his first appearance, the sent them to ancient Rome. Batman was known as, I kid you not, Batmanus. But the machine is a new thing, I think. Morrison's definitely trying to explain/justify how the time travel worked the same way he explained away Zur En Arrh as a hallucination or Bat-Mite as from Space B.
Caleb G: Did this story feel in-character for Nichols? Or was it a "Morrisonification" that elevated/changed him?
David U: It doesn't seem to be playing a big role in the overall story; I'll take this back if Carter Nichols shows up in the next issue of Return of Bruce Wayne, but I don't see why this could have come out just a bit later. And Nichols didn't really HAVE a character. He was just a dude who waved his hands in the air while Batman and Robin passed out on a couch and woke up in, like, an Aztec temple or something.
Chris S: Yeah, he was more a plot device than a character. Like Professor Potter from the Superman Family books, or that dude who used to send the Atom through time. What was his name? With the time pool?
David U: Well, the dude iced himself. Dick's right, it was a suicide, it was just a really, really complicated suicide.
Chris S: Wait, it was? I thought 2-Face-2 killed him.
David U: The art makes it look that way, but then Old Nichols starts going "Is -- is it time?", and then Damian goes "I can't let you kill yourself!" to younger Nichols who's dragging him away.
David B: It's not very clear at all, I'd say. The laser eyeball was the murder weapon, correct?
David U: Yeah, and Nichols took the laser eyeball too. But yet, Old Nichols already had the wound, which makes no sense. The only real way I can resolve this is that Kubert made an art mistake.
Chris S: An art mistake? In a Grant Morrison Batman comic? EXCUSE ME WHILE I RECOVER MY MONOCLE.
David B: I think that speaks to the slapdash feeling of this issue. The pinups are definitely just rejected or unusable covers and old DeviantArt sketches. A big art error at a crucial point, a baffling artist replacement... all of that is why this is so slight of an issue.
Caleb G: Let's walk through the events of the issue shall we? What's going down with Batman?
David U: He's traveling in time with the machine, grabbing the combination to the sarcophagus for Catwoman, because he's been hypnotized into thinking that his rogues are Professor Nichols. It's a time travel machine, basically. His enemies are being dicks and getting him to do stuff for them they always wanted because they are crazy. Because only Batman is badass enough to survive the time travel process.
Chris S: I think only Batman being a bad enough dude for time travel is going to come back in, oh, 4 weeks or so.
David U: The rest of this section is basically that Batman ends up beating up all the Rogues, but there's this underlying air of finality, that this is the last ride of the New Look, Caped Crusader Batman. This is right before we hit the O'Neil/Adams patch where stuff starts to get real.
David B: Then we skip up to today, where Dick and Damian fight the Mutants, the bad guys from Frank Miller's 'Dark Knight Returns.' The Batman and Robin of today fighting the villain's of yesterday's tomorrow, to be glib.
David U: You can see it in the dialogue; he asks Riddler not to call him Caped Crusader, Joker's losing interest in his big monologues halfway through... everyone's changing. It's like a bunch of kids graduating high school.
Chris S: Yeah, this story is clearly the end of Sci Fi Batman. The next time we see this Joker, he's not going to be Caesar Romero. He's going to be "The Laughing Fish." I think that washed-out look might be an attempt to cover rushed art, because this thing does not look up to Kollins's usual standards. Look at his pouty Riddler.
David U: Actually, the next time we see him after this is Five-Way Revenge. Laughing Fish is a few years later, although he's already getting the ideas. But there was a lot to like in the today section, but I thought it suffered hugely from the switch to Scott Kolins for the last three pages. What's mystifying about it is that Kolins has a pen-and-ink style that would have been a far better match for Quitely, but instead he's going with this inkwash pseudo-Mike-Mayhew thing.
Laura H: The art switch is mystifying and very unfortunate. Especially since the entire conceit is to break up the time periods visually by artist. Or if they had to switch, why they chose someone so radically different in style.
David B: Going from Quitely to Kolins would've never been appropriate, anyway.
Chris S: That first page he does is great, especially the Pizzeria panel, but it's like he finished it, looked up at the clock, and it was 4 AM and he had a 6 AM deadline. Batman's face in Panel 2 of his third page is just ridiculous.
David U: I feel absolutely cheated Quitely didn't draw the pizzeria panel.
David B: Quitely defined this new era of Batman. They should've stuck with him and pushed the book back a couple weeks.
Chris S: Yeah, I don't get why this issue should ever have to have a last-minute art switch. It's not like they don't know when it's supposed to come out. They've known since... well, since forever, really.
David B: Honestly, the art choices in this issue are baffling. Daniel is in this kind of almost Jim Lee lane, Finch is post-Top Cow... why use those guys for this story specifically? Quitely and Kubert are drawing sections that they are familiar and associated with. Daniel and Finch are strange choices.
Caleb G: Well, DC's been putting Finch on a lot of high profile stuff since he signed exclusive.
Chris S: Yeah... But if they're going to do this, they should've gone with authenticity over "name" guys who can't really pull it off. I know Dick Giordano and Jim Aparo aren't around to draw the "past" scenes, but hell, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez is.
David U: Hell, Chris, even an Eric Wight. Or Cameron Stewart. Also, Brad Anderson absolutely KILLED on the colors for this section. The Kubert/Anderson team is fantastic.On my first and second readings I thought this section was flawless, until I actually sat down adn tried to flowchart the damn plot and realized the only way it made sense was if Kubert screwed up.
Art error aside, this is a gorgeous eight pages.
David B: Art-wise, I liked about 16 pages total in this thing, including a couple of pinups.
Chris S: How much better would this have been with JLGL and Kevin Nowlan at the front? And if you're going to do Batman Beyond, why not Bruce Timm or Darwyn Cooke? Or Rick Burchett or Shane Glines or any of the guys that actually work in that style? Why not get Howard Porter to draw Batman 1M?
David U: Why not get different dudes to draw each section of the future to make the time skips more obvious? Get Geof Darrow on that apocalyptic future and JH Williams on utopia.
Chris S: Or alternately -- and this would be my suggestion -- get a guy who can draw in all those styles, who has worked with Morrison and can pull off a super-locked-room-mystery? Like JH Williams.
Laura H: That would take for-ev-er.
Chris S: Laura!
David B: I'm with Laura. I like that JHW3 can do chameleon stories, but I'd rather see other people do it.
David U: Honestly, there's no way in hell they could have gotten him to put out 31 pages of art for this by now. That would have been a borderline suicidal choice.
Laura H: His work is really time-intensive; they'd need to have commissioned it soooo long ago.
Chris S: THEY'VE HAD 700 MONTHS.
Chris S: I'm just saying, if there's a last-minute substitute on Batman #687 or whatever, that's fine, but you know well in advance when a Big Anniversary Issue is coming up. You've got time to get things worked out.
David U: Well, with the Quitely thing, the dude's been having back surgery or something, hasn't he? You can't account for health problems. If he's out of commission for like four months you're screwed.
Laura H: It's upsetting, because you can see how it could have been so much better.
David U: And as the final insult, they charge you an extra dollar for their slush pile.
David B: Grant Morrison is a storyteller who deserves more care to his work than this. I hesitate to call this a rip-off... but I'm far from impressed. And I mean, I'm built for books written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Quitely and Kubert. They've done some of my favorite comics work, together or separately.
Laura H: The Scott Kolins switch was inexcusable. 12 pages of random art was pretty inexcusable, although I probably wouldn't have cared if the book proper had blown me away.
Caleb G: All I wanted was for my reading experience to go on for another 12 pages, get a stronger ending, smile and relax, but instead I felt shafted.
David U: It's also always frustrating that none of this crap gets solicited. It's frustrating to find out this is a 32-page story when you check the preview PDF at one in the morning.
Caleb G: So, parting thoughts?
David U: My prescription is that Mike Marts look at Amazing Spider-Man #600 and try again.
Laura H: I wish we could ask for a second draft. It's like looking at a term paper that you know someone threw together at 3 in the morning. And they show up hungover and drop it on your desk and look sheepish.
David B: Laura, that's a good point and basically my review of Batman 700. "Shrug."
David U: Oh well: Return of Bruce Wayne #3 in two weeks, and the last issue of that was transcendent.
Chris S: This whole thing was pulled off way better a hundred issues ago by Ed Brubaker in Batman #600. Like now, the Batman books were in the midst of this big crossover, but Ed Brubaker wrote one big main story to continue that where Bruce Wayne finds a dime novel about this guy named The Black Bat from the 1860s and Nichols puts him in the Maybe Machine and sends him back in time, where they fight Confederate soldiers to free slaves and inspire an ex-slave to become a vigilante. It's Batman helping the underground railroad, by Ed Brubaker and a guy drawing in a faux-Sprang style. It's. A.Mazing. Also, Batman #600 involved Carter Nichols. In a better story than this.
David U: I think we can chalk our reaction up as "collective disappointment."
Laura H: On a random note, the Japanese at the end appears to be meaningless.
David B: What do the letters translate out to? "Banging on a japanese keyboard"?
Laura H: At the top, "chi-ko-ma-mo," then "mi-ki-ra-ku," then something off-panel and "ta-ya-ra-kan." And they're in the alphabet used exclusively for foreign words.
David B: It being in katakana makes me think it's just random characters. The angular look of katakana makes it look just foreign and interesting enough to look good on the page. "Hey, this ain't English!!!" It's always f--king stupid when that happens in comics. I did some consulting stuff for a game a few years ago that had Arabic in certain places, since it was set in the middle east. All of it was gibberish and backward.
David U: That alphabet is actually "batakana."
Chris S: Winner.
Laura H: Well, I'm sorry it wasn't better, guys. I know you were really psyched for it.
David B: I think that was just Uzumeri!
David U: I feel like I just got a sweater for Christmas.