Good lord, but I love me some Grant Morrison Batman.
As the cover up above may indicate, this issue takes us back to the future of Batman 666, where Damian Wayne is Batman and Gotham City is a lot worse off for it. And unfortunately, Bruce Wayne knows it:
Bruce is being pretty harsh here. I mean… Damian’s very capable, even at ten years old. You’d think that by the time he grows up to be Batman, he’d be really good at the whole super hero thing. Surely, Gotham would be fine under his watch. I mean, how bad could it be?
And it only gets worse from there, I’m afraid. Damian really doesn’t make a very good Batman. Yes, he’s smart and capable, and he uses the tools well. He’s super-tough and hard to kill. But he’s unsubtle and impatient, and those are not good qualities when you’re trying to fill Bruce Wayne’s shoes.
This, I think, is why Damian works so very well when Morrison’s writing him, and so very not-well in the hands of just about every other writer I’ve seen use the kid. All that usually comes through elsewhere is the surface cool, the bad attitude and ninja skillz that make so many readers love him and so many others hate him. But what makes Damian the character find of the last decade, and the best Robin ever, is everything packed up inside that shell. Morrison never forgets that he’s a ten-year-old boy. Capable as he is, he still has very real mental and physical limits (the afore-mentioned impatience and lack of subtlety just to name two). He’s also, behind all the bluster, terribly insecure and desperate to please his chosen mentors.
Just look at that scene between him and Batman up above. Artist Chris Burnham’s done a spectacular job with that encounter. With each word out of Bruce’s mouth, a little more of Damian’s world breaks up and falls away, until he’s left with nothing but a final hopeless plea to the father he loves more than he’s willing to admit. His usual arrogant bluster cracks, making it all the more heart-rending when the frightened little boy inside is exposed.
Hot damn, that’s good character writing.
But what about the hot super hero action, you ask? Well, this issue delivers on that, too. Future-Damian is dealing with the Joker’s dying gift to Gotham: a Joker-Plague that turns everyone into him.
As it turns out, your average citizen doesn’t handle being the Joker nearly as well as the Joker himself does. A mass outbreak has left Gotham in flames, with the last of the uninfected taking refuge in Arkham Asylum against the ravening Joker-horde. That’s right: Grant Morrison has given us the Joker as the zombie holocaust. It’s a story full of grim-n-gritty ridiculousness, with characters taking up smoking in hopes that it will kill them before the Jokers do, and weird reversals like Batman leveraging help from the villainous Jackanapes by threatening to grant him release from Arkham. I laughed a lot.
There’s cool action and plot twists all around, too, though. I was particularly taken with this scene, in which the remaining inmates are set loose to help fight the inevitable final Joker assault on Arkham:
That’s Jackanapes smashing the two Jokers’ heads together in the foreground, of course. But I’m also happy to see the Flamingo again, and I think that’s the leader of the Mutant gang from Dark Knight Returns just below him. I have no idea who the guy with the giant mouth is, or the pale scarred muscle-man with the shocking red hair. I’m sure I could figure it out if I went back to the first Batman 666 story and looked at the list of villain names tossed out there. But I’m happy to just have them cluttering up this most excellent group fight panel, too.
The Mutant leader isn’t the only Dark Knight Returns reference in this issue, either, by the way. In a few panels, Damian is given a similar dishevelled bulk as Miller’s Old Batman, and I can’t think that’s an accident. I’d show you one of them, but frankly they’re all far too spoilery for a comic that just hit the shelf today.
I will spoil one other little detail for you, though: the Gotham situation’s gotten so out of hand that the President is forced to take action. And who’s advising him in that difficult decision? This guy:
Considering how very many artists have handled the character at this point, I can’t be sure, but… If that hairline’s any indication, it looks like Dr. Hurt will be getting his revenge at last if this future comes to pass. Nice to know that Morrison hasn’t forgotten about the deal with the devil hanging over Future-Damian’s head, at least…
So. A nice return visit to Batman 666, some cool zombie apocalypse action, the grand Morrison meta-plot rearing its head once again, and a heart-rending character turn in the present-day. That’s some good Batman. Well-worth my three bucks.