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Through The Years: Four Generations of Batman tackling a time-warping mystery-crime in the landmark Batman #700
cover art

Batman #700

(DC; US: Aug 2010)

Listen to the animals sing, can't you here the slaughterhouse bell?

There’s a fluency to the Grant Morrison-scripted Batman #700, a plastic veneer that seems to have been missing from the workaday issues ground out for the monthly title Batman and Robin over the course of this past year.


It was the secret wonderhell of Morrison’s project with the Batman, something readers have seen time and again in his multi-year run on the character’s eponymous comicbook that would end in “R.I.P.”; Morrison would bridge the gap between ‘60s and ‘70s Batman.


After Denny O’Neill and Neal Adams took on scripting and artistic duties respectively for the ‘70s Batman title, there was an unpublicized détente. The camp of ‘60s Batman would remain unmentioned. The Carmine Infantino-fueled crazy, semi-plausible pseudo-science would remain a thing of the past. What’s more, that phase of the character’s development would remain in a kind of purgatory. Everybody it seemed, wanted a newer sterner Batman. A harder-working, street-level Dark Knight is exactly what the zeitgeist seemed to be baying for. And it would be the groundbreaking work of O’Neill and Adams that paved the way for such classics as Dark Knight Returns and also Watchmen.


Morrison however, like filmmaker Tim Burton before him, was a re-integrationist. Morrison sought to bridge the clear gap between the sci-fi camp of ‘60s Batman, with the hard-boiled street-level Batman of the ‘70s. There was a certain innate horror to the camp, to the pulp. And in his run on Batman, Morrison sought to tap that horror again. Ironically with the birth of the newer, harder Dark Knight, the character would become a far simpler animal. Detective work would slip under the spell of intimidation and psychological interrogation. O’Neill’s genius in this characterization of Batman would be to foresee a narrative strategy that mainstream theatrical audiences would only be ready for some 30 years into the future with 2008’s The Dark Knight.


It would not be unfair to say that the conventional strategy in dealing with Batman camp, would be to dismiss it, at least after ‘70s Batman. ‘60s Batman, a Batman of alien death rays and mad science, a world of giant pennies and Ace the Bathound, would prove little more than an unsightly blemish. Into the ‘80s and throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s, writers the like of Alan Grant and Chuck Dixon and Brian Azzarello would continue what had become a proud tradition; writing a street-level Batman.


Undoubtedly, it would take a writer of Morrison’s skill to bridge that now un-crossable yaw, between the pulp and the hard-boiled. Doctor Simon Hurt’s psychological deprivation experiments and the Bat-Mite would prove disingenuous to new, sterner Batman. And yet it would be exactly those elements, as well an army of mutated Bat-soldiers and a cult of sightless assassin with eyeballs painted on their fingertips, that would provide the grist for Morrison’s run on Batman.


Batman 700 then, should prove a shining triumph for Morrison then. It should be that final piece that explains the hidden logic that connects Tim Burton’s Batman movies with Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman’s legitimate quest to produce a Batman musical for Broadway (tracks from this failed project can be heard on the recent Bat Out Of Hell III album). This historical issue telling the tale of one crime perpetrated over four generations. This story which pulls the audience back into that quantum realm of pulp with the few words: ‘One impossible crime, can you crack the case?’. And the landmark issue achieves all of these things.


But.


Isn’t this always the way with creative genius? It stands alone?


There is a beauty to the art of Tony Daniel, and Frank Quietly and Andy Kubert and David Finch. But somehow we don’t quite get there. It seems, as the story progresses, that Morrison’s storytelling begins to eclipse his artists’. And that somehow, creative genius on the artwork side, is just slightly hobbled.


Batman 700 is the promise of a better kind of Batman. The study of a character carved into history, rather than simply have Bruce Wayne as its primary avatar. It’s worth the read, and well worth the purchase. But after I put the book away, I want more. And so do you.

Rating:

AB-, ENTJ, PhD: shathley Q is deeply moved by the emotional connection we build with our perpetual fictions, and hopes to answer for that somehow, somehow. He holds a Doctorate in Literary and Cultural Theory. His writings have appeared in Joss Whedon: the Complete Companion and Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men, as well as regularly on PopMatters. Like a kid in a china shop, he microblogs as @uuizardry on Twitter. Or hit him up directly on shathleyq@popmatters.com.


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