So recently I discovered a new public library near my house, and it is full of comic books. Naturally, I borrowed way too many.
I picked up three Batman comics. Now Batman’s one of those old franchises that has so many stories that it’s virtually a genre unto itself. As a result of multiple adaptions, remakes and reboots the characters in these books feel more like a Commedia dell’arte troupe than people living meaningful lives. I’m also frustrated that Batman continuities stick to a certain status quo, preventing Batman from significantly improving his crime-ridden city.
Batman: Li’l Gotham: Volume 2 – Dustin Nguyen Derek Fridolfs
The painted art in this book is gorgeous, which is great because that’s largely the point of it. The stories here are light-hearted and seasonal, based on holidays like Christmas, New Year’s Eve and actual seasons like Autumn. My favourite involved Batman chasing Clayface into a comic convention and not appearing out of place. I was confused about what continuity this book took place in, and who this Katana character was, but I soon got over myself. I was also bothered about the relationship between Harley Quin and the Joker, which was far too happy.
Batman & Robin: Batman & Robin Must Die – Grant Morrison, Frazer Irving and David Finch
Some writers begin normal and become weird. Grant Morrison is the exact opposite. It’s hard to believe that the slightly demented genius behind Doom Patrol, The Invisibles and Animal Man now writes such typical, though admittedly well-written, Batman stories.
This book is set after a crossover crisis which caused Bruce Wayne to disappear, and be replaced in his role as Batman by his former sidekick Dick Grayson. Damien Wayne, Bruce’s bastard child, assumes the role of Batman. I like the chemistry of this team because Grayson’s Batman is a lot cheerier than his predecessor. I also appreciate how both Batmen are visually distinct from each other, with the Wayne Batman being bulkier.
This was the first time I encountered Professor Pygg, a truly creepy villain rocking a pig mask. He talks a lot of creepy nonsense, which according to Grant alludes to the cruel history of animal experimentation in science.
But coming from Grant, all this great material comes across as bit of a disappointment. Where’s all that hallucinatory themes from his early days. I’m hoping he’s writing something a little edgy on the side, because he certainly isn’t here.
Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman In Japan – Jiro Kuwata
Bat-Manga, a licensed Batman manga drawn and scripted by Jiro Kuwata for one year in the sixties, is brilliant.
Kuwata creates memorable new villains, like the spooky Lord Deathman or a gorilla given the intelligence of a professor, and makes an old one, Clayface, actually likeable. I don’t know why, but I’ve never had much time for Clayface until I read this book.
The editors scattered photos of Japanese memorabilia throughout this book. Stuff like toys, puzzles and posters. The result is feels like walking though a very specific museum.
Between Bat-Manga and Batman: Child of Dreams, I recommend that DC publish more Batman mangas as a way to refresh the brand.