Ouch, my achin' eyes, what an ugly book this is! I don't know what on earth is going on with Grant Morrison's career, but it seems that for every page of his comics drawn by a really talented professional, readers have to suffer through four drawn by somebody who's more interested in obscuring Morrison's intent behind horrible storytelling, a total misunderstanding of human anatomy and a latent desire to simply miss the point of what he should be drawing.
Morrison started his run on DC's Batman in 2007 and this is the first of four collected editions of the still-ongoing story. Reports from people who are reading it as it's released suggest that the current episodes - to be reprinted in, I suppose, the fifth and sixth books - have hit that wonderful Morrison payoff where elements from much earlier in the story are shown to be delicately tied together. Nobody in comics does this as well as Morrison. He hides things in plain sight and foreshadows so well and so casually that I'm genuinely curious to see what might be going on, but, honestly, it can probably wait if the artwork is anywhere as awful as this.
The story begins with the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker, being critically wounded by a rogue cop dressed as Batman. After a detour dealing with two old enemies, one of whom knows his secret identity of Bruce Wayne and can attack him in public, Batman begins to discover there's a secret order among these rogue police, using his identity for a purpose to be explored down the line. Along the way, he has to deal with his thirteen year-old son, a murderous brat raised by a gang of international criminals and cultists.
DC's reprint division has done their usual half-baked job on a contemporary property. It's a shame the way that company can make archival reprints shine with usually sensible decisions about what to collect and a strong sense of design; I'll be writing about their recent Creeper collection soon, and that great book proves that somebody in that company has their head firmly in place. But when they reprint modern comics, they just throw a random number of issues between two covers and assemble it with no thought as to how anybody's supposed to follow it or even know that the story continues into subsequent editions. There's literally nothing in here to tell readers that the story of the doppelganger Batmen and the other subplots should find some payoff in the books "The Black Glove" and "Batman RIP." It's a book, idiotically, that assumes anybody who wants to read it has Wikipedia open in another tab.
I confess that certain message boards that I enjoy have roared their disapproval of the artwork in these subsequent books, but honestly I'm having trouble imagining any art worse than that contributed by Andy Kubert in this volume. It's not merely that the characters are drawn to look unpleasantly angular and ugly everywhere, it's that the whole book is rendered in such a stylized way that there's no sense of place or scale anywhere, making sequences incredibly difficult to follow. Early in the book there's a fight in a museum's pop art exhibit, which sees people slugging it out in front of panels reading POW! and WHAM!, surely a sequence that cries out for artwork in the style of sixties artists like Carmine Infantino or Murphy Anderson, and not this sub-Jim Lee material, all pouches and constipation faces. Some years ago, Morrison scripted a one-off comic called Doom Force which specifically parodied this style of artwork and now the art on his mainstream work looks like the parody.
Part of me wants to embrace this book, because there are enough wild Morrison ideas inside it to occasionally overcome the book's major deficiencies. I'm certainly curious where the story will go next, but I've been a fan of the writer since Zenith in 1987 and I've overlooked a lot of terrible artwork in that time. When you spend even a second listing the names of previous Batman artists who could have made these comics shine, I believe that's a large enough suspension of belief violation to curb any interest in these books. Absent the employment of a Jim Aparo clone to redraw a second edition, not at all recommended.