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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Batman Gothic. Grant Morrison (Writer), Klaus Janson (Artist) Steve Buccellato (Colours) John Costanza (Letters) Warner Books. (1992)

A cleverly constructed Batman story whose jigsaw nature tends to undermine the impact, the art remains striking and fresh. With nods to the Fritz Lang film "M" and European folklore Grant Morrison adds all of the iconic aspects of the Batman history to the story to created a patchwork quilt of a story that should be much better than it is. The non-Batman aspects of the story are by far the most successful, Grant Morrison does not feel the same freedom to play with the Batman aspects as he does with the supernatural elements and it shows. Someone is killing gang leaders in Gotham, it proves to be Mr. Whisper, a child killer whom the same gangsters disposed of twenty years ago when his abductions and murders were making Gotham too difficult for their own more commercial activities. Now he is back and taking his revenge. It appears that this same Mr. Whisper has a connection to Bruce Wayne in his school days. The story develops to encompass a plan to bargain with the devil to escape a deal that had been made three hundred years earlier, a bargain that involves the deaths of millions in Gotham.
The story is a good one, Mr. Whisper is a suitably creepy villain and his history is told with skill and craft, the working out of his plan has the correct level of mad grandiosity and is concluded in an entirely satisfactory manner. The problem in the story is Batman there is both too much and too little of him to be satisfactory. In the story we see the full range of Batman, as a detective, as the frighting vigilante to street punks intent on murder, as the unrelenting enemy of corruption with gang leaders, we get the reason his family took the fatal trip to the cinema, we see Bruce Wayne the wealthy man using his money as a wealthy man would, we see his gadgets in his Batcave. We even see him tied up in an absurdly complex death trap with the villain explaining his plans before leaving him to his death. We see him carefully assembled like a jigsaw puzzle, all we are missing is the actual character, the spark that makes Batman lift off the page.
The compensation is that we great great art from Klaus Janson, Steve Buccellato and John Costanza. Dark colours and lots of variety in the panel size and placement, the claustrophobic atmosphere is captured perfectly. The art delivers on the Gothic in the title in spades. it is the true star of the book and what makes it a worthwhile read.

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