Reviews

Batman: Last Rites

Kevin M. Brettauer

In an industry where the average story is told in about six installments, it is refreshing to see one of the great masters return to a world he knows so well and deliver a two-issue, character-driven narrative that makes the reader wish all comic books were this engrossing and wonderful.


Batman: Last Rites

Publisher: DC
Subtitle: The Last Days of Gotham
Contributors: artist: Guillem March, letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Price: $2.99
Writer: Denny O'Neil
Length: 22
Formats: Single Issues
Issues: Detective Comics #851 & Batman #684
US publication date: 2009-01-04
cat_label_url
Amazon

If nothing else, Denny O'Neil has always known how to tell a good story, and he has always known that good stories don't need to be dragged out. In an age of decompression, company-wide crossovers and bimonthly status quo shake-ups, it seems as if the ability to tell a good story in one, two or even three issues has been nearly lost, Marvel's charming Deadpool and DC's lauded but low-selling Jonah Hex being notable exceptions.

Thank the comic book gods, then, for Denny O'Neil, whose legendary runs on books like The Question and Green Lantern/Green Arrow still hold up to this day and remain classics in the field. In the aftermath of Grant Morrison's massively overhyped "Batman: RIP" storyline, which left many fans scratching their heads, we have O'Neil's inspired two-issue "The Last Days of Gotham".

In what seems to be an act of open defiance against decompressed storytelling – which is prevalent in nearly every top-selling book, from Marvel's New Avengers and Captain America to DC's Justice Society of America and Green Lantern – O'Neil has crafted a little gem of a story that really could only work as a two-part story. By doing so, he once again shows us that comics – while their themes may be dreary and their characters dark – can still be an enjoyable experience, something many writers in the field appear to have forgotten. The stories and messages can be as heavy as the author wants them to be, but the reader should still be able to walk away and feel better for having read the comic.

O'Neil masterfully balances several elements. He shows the confusion and stress that the story's protagonist, Nightwing, is experiencing, introduces narrator Millicent Mayne, expresses the hopelessness felt by the Gotham PD, and even successfully shows the reliable Alfred Pennyworth trying to remain the rock of the Bat-family, all while including the requisite crime story elements. While this may sound like far too much to get right in just two issues, the fact that O'Neil nails it perfectly in a mere 44 pages serves as a testament to the man and his control over his craft.

The characterizations of every single cast member are spot-on. Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock, Alfred, Nightwing and Oracle are written just as they always should be, by a man who knows them better than most people know their own families. Even the missing Batman is seemingly venerated, spoken of only in sorrowful whispers and tones by those who miss him in much the same way that murderers, pimps and drug dealers once whispered of him in fear.

The real star of the show, though, is Two-Face, who appears in a few brief scenes in the story's first half, where he is written with some of the best, most intelligent dialogue afforded to the character in years. Many writers neglect Harvey Dent's highly probable Ivy League education and experience as Gotham's District Attorney, and regrettably write the villain speaking in standard, clichéd mobster movie dialogue. He should, instead, speak like a character out of a David Mamet production or a David Milch teleplay; that is to say, he should sound eloquent and intelligent, not base and brutish. The dialogue O'Neil provides for him makes one feel as if he should be in Elsinore Castle with King Claudius and Queen Gertrude, trying to figure out what to do with the seemingly insane Prince Hamlet, as opposed to getting arrested by David Caruso's Lieutenant Caine on CSI: Miami.

While it is so easy to gush over O'Neil's professional and pitch-perfect tale, it would be in poor form to not mention Guillem March's splendid artwork, which perfectly matches both the transient emotional and mental states of the characters as well as the tone of the story as a whole. If March isn't a big name soon, it'll be an honest shame. He is a true talent waiting to be discovered and placed on the right big-name book. His figures are drawn with a crystal clarity and precision that is rare in comics today, and his backgrounds are nothing to sneeze at, either. His Jim Gordon is a textbook example of how to draw Gotham's most beloved Police Commissioner. Additionally, the decaying, New Orleans-esque ruins of a post-earthquake area of Gotham that has yet to be repaired – and probably never will be – are stunning beyond reproach.

"The Last Days of Gotham" is, sadly, the sort of rare story that comic books tell so infrequently these days. It is short, concise, and to the point. It is haunting and thought-provoking in all the right ways, but that does little to nothing to diminish the sense of fun that pervades this particular Batman story and once pervaded most of the industry as a whole. However, there are two unfortunate circumstances surrounding "The Last Days of Gotham". The first is that it is remarkably upsetting that a story of this type and caliber had to emerge out of something as messy and awkward as "Batman: RIP". The second is that it will more than likely be a very long time before the various Batman series, or, indeed, most comic books, will feel like this again.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum
Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Music

Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.

Music

Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.