"Batman & Son, part three: Wonderboys"
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Andy Kubert (p), Jesse Delperdang (i), Dave Stewart (colours)
Publisher: DC Comics
Grant Morrison's "Batman & Son" rolls onward this issue, introducing Damian - the product of Batman's union with Talia - to the batcave and showing what havoc the sprog can cause when let loose in the Dark Knight's world. Unfortunately, the writer makes the best case yet for why the original Son of the Demon story should be excised from the hero's history, as his bat-brat serves only to irritate, and the issue as a whole leaves me wondering where the Morrison that wrote the attention-grabbing first issue of this storyline has disappeared to.
Considering that the first issue of Morrison's run underlined the importance of Bruce Wayne taking some time to get comfortable with his civilian persona again, it's disappointing that Bats only appears in-costume here for the second issue in a row. That's assuming that it is Bruce under the cowl of course, because some of his behaviour would suggest otherwise; how else to explain his decision to confine the boy to an easily-escapable room, to place the violent little git in the unsupervised custody of the elderly and defenceless Alfred, or to tolerate the entire ridiculous situation in the first place? When Damian escapes the confines of Wayne Manor unaided and kills one of Batman's enemies in cold blood, you can't help but think that Bruce could (and should) have handled the situation far better, and it's all just a little too convenient that the pre-pubescent Damian is also an apparent match for Robin in a fistfight. There's also the conflict of character that allows Damian to have advanced way beyond his years in combat training but still retain all the discipline and self-control of a Weight Watcher in a donut factory, another contrivance that is necessary for the plot to work but doesn't really make much sense when you stop and think about it. Essentially, there's a lot of rubbish to swallow if you're to accept the central premise of the story - which makes it all the more disappointing that, once you get there, the story itself is pretty thin and uninvolving. The kid comes to the Batcave, acts like a spoilt brat, and Batman - for the most part - puts up with it and tells Robin that, regardless of his parentage, the boy deserves a little love and affection. Whilst there are some interesting (if pretty much unexplored) parent issues which could arise out of Batman caring for a child, the script seems more intent on showing what havoc the boy can cause for the dynamic duo, and the misfire of a cliffhanger - which sees Damian attempt to usurp Tim Drake as Robin - fails to carry the emotional weight that Morrison seems to intend, thanks to its implausibility. I half-expected Batman to exclaim, "D'oh! Whatever will the little scamp do next!" on the final page, as that's about the level that the story seems to be working at.
Andy Kubert's visuals fare only slightly better than Morrison's writing, offering tempting glimpses of greatness which are interspersed with long periods of surprisingly ordinary art. An impressive and characterful opening image of Batman and Damian standing side by side gives way to a rather sparse, empty-looking and uninspiring splash of the Batcave, before descending into the unfunny antics of Batman and his offspring with an evident lack of relish. Kubert's Jim-Lee-lite style meshes poorly with the story Morrison is trying to tell, as although there are some downright dark moments in the script (the grisly fate of the Spook, for example), there's such an overriding sense of silliness in the concept of the story that Kubert can't escape the feeling that his art is playing the straight man in order for Morrison's joke to work. It's similar to what's going on in All-Star Batman, but whereas Frank Miller's book is much more of an out-and-out parody which takes delight in subverting many elements of Batman's world, Morrison feels like he's just trying to push the regular Batman in a more sitcom-esque direction, and it just doesn't work for me. Whether it's the oddly comedic tone, the choppy scene-changing or simply the fact that Morrison's script only allows for half-fights or snatches of action that prevents Kubert making the best of his chance to draw Batman, the whole thing just doesn't come together in the way that you'd imagine from such a revered pairing working together on such an iconic and popular character.
Sadly, Jesse Delperdang's inks don't feel like they're making the most of Kubert's pencils either, coming off as slightly sketchy and rushed at times (maybe it's at this stage that corners are having to be cut in order to meet publishing deadlines?). It's reminiscent of Bill Reinhold's current work on Amazing Spider-Man in its occasionally flat and sparse look, and over-reliance on heavy hatching lines to give the images definition. The result is that Kubert's linework doesn't feel anywhere near as strong as it was in..., say..., his recent Ultimate Fantastic Four run, and it's concerning that he's only been able to produce four issues of this book before needing a fill-in arc to give him time to catch up. That said, there are a couple of strong visual moments to be found in the issue, with the aforementioned opening page and a later full-page splash of Batman swinging through the Gotham night both standing out as defining images for the issue. The latter panel might feel like a pin-up that's been shoehorned into the story - and feels like an odd choice, pacing-wise - but it shows that Kubert, Delperdang, and colourist Dave Stewart (of whom I'm a big fan) really do have a strong visual grasp of the character. I only wish it came through a little more strongly in the rest of the book, but in all honesty my problems with the feel of the issue can probably be blamed more on Morrison's writing than the contributions of the art team. A disappointment.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!