Now that Bruce Wayne has made the full return to active duty in the DC Universe, writer Grant Morrison establishes a new direction, not only for that character but the extended Batman family as a whole, it would seem. This week marked the release of two new #1 issues — a one-shot and the first issue of a new ongoing series — that set the stage for the ambitious alteration to the Batman’s status quo. The changes as outlined in Morrison’s scripts are intriguing, but the artwork on both comics sometimes falls short of the novelty and cleverness of the writing.
Batman: The Return #1 (DC Comics)
by Grant Morrison, David Finch, Batt & Ryan Winn
This first thing that struck me as I finished this story was that the $4.99 US price tag wasn’t merited. There were only 30 pages of story, with the rest of the book offering sketches, concept designs and other glimpses into the creative process. There have been times in the past when I’ve enjoyed such bonus material, but it felt as though I was paying an extra buck for material that didn’t cost DC any extra money. In other words, I came away from this comic book feeling as though it’s a poor value.
That being said, this is one of the most straightforward Batman comics Morrison has written in a while. His work on Batman and Robin, while entertaining and challenging, was sometimes so surreal or presented in such a stream-of-consciousness manner that it was confusing at times. This is much more by the numbers. Of course, it feels a bit ordinary as a result. Furthermore, little actually happens in this story, aside from an all-too-brief father/son conflict and an entertaining fight scene that didn’t really advance the plot. The most intriguing thing about the plot is that mirroring the Batman’s plan to recruit new Batmen the world over, there’s also an antagonist that seems intent on creating or becoming a malevolent counterpart to the Dark Knight.
Morrison has either chosen or has been directed to bring the DC Universe vision of the Batman more in line with the big-screen version of the character. Lucius Fox has suddenly transformed into an engineering genius, more like Morgan Freeman’s character in the Christopher Nolan-directed movies than the business manager he’s been in Batman comics for decades. The cool new Frank Quitely-designed Batmobile is also gone, replaced with the movie design.
The other big draw, so to speak, of this one-shot is the art. David Finch has been doing a lot of cover artwork since he began his exclusive DC contract, but I believe this may be his first full art on a DC comic since it began. The opening scene — focusing on the bat that crashed through the window of Wayne Manor on a fateful night many years ago — boasts some poor choices. His interpretation of the animal looks more like some kind of were-creature than a bat. As for his take on the title character, he’s clearly taking some cues from Frank Miller’s classic rendering from The Dark Knight Returns. The Marc Silvestri influence on his work is most apparent when he renders female characters. The level of detail he brings to the classic Batcave is impressive, but I find his art distracting when it comes to the characters’ faces. They’re often rendered in a squat style that just doesn’t look right. 5/10
Batman, Inc. #1 (DC Comics)
by Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette & Michel Lacombe
Despite the fact that this new ongoing series derives its title from the ambitious change in the Batman family’s status quo, I was surprised to find a rather traditional story within, reminiscent of the globe-trotting Batman adventures of the 1970s. Accompanied by Catwoman, the original Batman travels to Tokyo to recruit his first new international Batman and to set up a new branch office, so to speak. Instead, he finds himself drawn into conflict with his would-be recruit’s murderer, a villain named Lord Death Man (only seen before in a Batman manga book from decades ago). Morrison offers up a fun, accessible script that’s both playful and grisly at times.
The writing goes awry in couple of respects, chief among them is Catwoman’s role in the story. The plot offers an explanation for her appearance — Batman needs help to steal a villain’s new ultimate weapon — but her participation in this story nevertheless feels rather forced. I get the feeling she’s only here for a couple of gags about Japanese culture more than anything else. I do love the over-the-top villainy of Lord Death Man. I wish we’d gotten a better introduction to his victim, Mr. Unknown, but I suspect someone else will step into the role by the time the story arc comes to its conclusion.
The biggest problem with this comic book is the artwork. Don’t get me wrong… I enjoy Yanick Paquette’s work, but he makes some unfortunate choices for this first issue. First of all, Catwoman and Batman look as though they’re rendered by two different artists. Paquette seems to be inspired by Kevin Nowlan when it comes to his interpretation of the title character, and for Catwoman, he takes his cues from Adam Hughes. As such, there’s a ridiculous emphasis on Selina’s ass and cleavage. For example, for her first appearance in this issue, she’s contorted into the most impossible position to draw attention to both her gluteus maximus and her bosoms. It’s laughably distracting, drawing attention away from the solid work the artist includes in this issue, such as the detailed Tokyo cityscape and the well-choreographed action. 6/10
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