With the “Blackest Knight” storyarc (running issues seven through nine) Grant Morrison’s recently rebooted series, Batman And Robin takes on its most sinister, most ghoulish turn yet. For the first time Rich Grayson, the first Robin, finds himself dealing with the fallout of being the heir apparent to the Mantle of the Bat.
Morrison offers a strange and heady brew with “Blackest Knight”. Clearly the title is punned from the current DC mega-event “Blackest Night” where the various light-based heroes and villains of the DCU face down the resurrection of their deceased loved ones. This Batman And Robin storyarc also offers more than a nod to the current mega-event. While regular readers of the title will recognize that not much has passed since the close of issue six (the finale of “Revenge of the Red Hood” storyarc), the emotional complexities of the living contending with the dead certainly has been resurrected in the pages of “Blackest Knight”.
The story is a reasonably simple one. Following the events of “Revenge of the Red Hood”, with Robin recuperating, Batman heads for England to uncover a hitherto hidden Lazarus Pit. The Pit, an ancient technology once used by Bruce Wayne-era villain Ra’s al Ghul, is meant to resurrect the recently dead. And resurrect the recently dead is exactly what the current Batman plans to do–Rich Grayson has come into possession of what he believes to be the body of Batman. As the plot twists and turns, Batman collaborates with Batwoman, the new star of Detective Comics and is lured into a battle for succession with her. And all the while, a super-powered English crime family with possible ties to British royalty enacts a dark prophecy to begin a new Age of Crime.
Even in Morrison’s skilled hands, “Blackest Knight” suffers from an almost existential fatigue. Like previous storyarc “Revenge of the Red Hood”, Morrison deals with fallout from other stories, primarily “Blackest Night”, and the earlier events of “Battle for the Cowl”. There is a good deal of the past that must be overcome, before Rich Grayson can get his tabula rasa as Batman. And yet, Morrison’s gift for storytelling does shine through. The strange combination of British whimsy (superheroes Knight and Squire shouting ‘Oi’, the King of British Crime being possibly the true King of England) and dark, occultic practices that demand a very high emotional price becomes infinitely more engaging than the fate of Jason Todd’s Red Hood character.
Given this strange combination, Cameron Stewart (who seems to have perfected his style in the same visual genre as the legendary Richard Corben) seems the perfect choice for artistic duties on this storyarc. Whimsical, but with a dark lining, Stewart’s art provides an excellent visual metaphor for Morrison’s project with “Blackest Knight”.
The real advantage “Blackest Knight” has over “Revenge of the Red Hood however, is the opportunities Morrison creates for character definition of the new Batman. While Rich Grayson may be lured into a legacy contest with Batwoman (‘I am the new Batman’, she decries at one point), he certainly does not contend with her. Instead, Grayson defines himself through his explanations to his team, Robin and the dependable Wayne family butler, Alfred Pennyworth. ‘I work without a net. I’m not Bruce’, Grayson says unapologetically, accepting responsibility for putting the two in a life-and-death scenario, but taking no blame. And when admonished for trying to resurrect Bruce Wayne, Grayson can more than hold his own. ‘This isn’t just “loved ones”, Alfie. It’s Bruce Wayne, the Batman. He saved our lives, he saved the city and the world how many times? If that had been his body–and we all thought it was–if there was even a chance of bringing that man back… I owed it to the world to try’.
With this keen eye for characterization, even opening sequence detailing Batman’s run across London, takes on the weight of characterization. Rich Grayson moves in a way Bruce Wayne’s Batman never did. Even this race-against-the-clock is a means of Morrison defining his new Batman’s character.
With “Blackest Knight”, Morrison wraps up possibly the final loose threads from “Battle of the Cowl”. But rather than rely on a paint-by-numbers kind of story, excellent progress is made in redefining the kind of Batman Rich Grayson is becoming. The arc itself, comes highly recommended.