"Three Ghosts of Batman"
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Andy Kubert (p), Jesse Delperdang (i), Guy Major (colours)
Publisher: DC Comics
This is the first Morrison/Kubert issue of Batman in five months, but despite that long delay, it's fairly easy to get back into the story. Picking up where "Batman & Son" left off, Bruce Wayne is contacted in Gibraltar by a young celebrity starlet who invites the playboy billionaire on a ski trip. Shortly after returning to Gotham, however, Batman happens across a disturbing and mysterious conspiracy involving corrupt policemen, murdered prostitutes, and a seedy underground lair which is inhabited by a huge, muscle-bound monstrosity in what looks like a home-made Batman costume, wearing a mask that is reminiscent of longtime Bat-villain Bane.
Andy Kubert's artwork is dynamic and fluid, making the action flow smoothly and the story follow easily from panel to panel. I still can't help but be reminded of Jim Lee's work during the "Hush" arc, as Kubert seems to have adopted a similar approach to the book in terms of the character design and the level of detail he brings to the page (including the apparent obsession with the grip on the soles of Batman's boots). Despite some of the finesse being lost in Jesse Delperdang's slightly heavy ink job, it nevertheless manages to make the action sequences feel more fluid than Lee's more precisely posed images, and there are a couple of well-choreographed fights here for the artists to get their teeth into. The entire art team comes together most effectively when Morrison's story takes a turn for the sinister, and Batman finds himself exploring a dank, disturbing subterranean den of abuse; the images are just "clean" enough to warrant inclusion in a nominally all-ages title, but the atmosphere which is created isn't any less effective for it. I'm still not convinced that this art justifies the long wait between issues - if indeed it is Kubert who is holding up proceedings - but on its own terms, it's certainly a decent job.
Morrison's writing is also fairly strong here, and it's a pleasure to see him concentrate some of his attention on Bruce Wayne again, reinforcing the idea that his public persona is just as much a disguise as Batman's cape and cowl. However, this sequence feels curiously truncated and disjointed, as the focus of the story shifts from Wayne's ski-trip to Batman's activities in Gotham so abruptly that I was convinced that it wasn't Bruce in the Batsuit for a good few pages. There's also a slight tendency for Morrison to over-explain his ideas, as the impact of a slick skiing stunt involving a parachute (a clear homage to The Spy Who Loved Me) is reduced by one of the characters commenting that Wayne is "Cool, like James Bond." Yes: we get it. Still, the neat touches of detail (the Pennyworth Blue rose, Bruce's recognition of the scent of testosterone from Waynecorp board meetings, and the mystery of the Black Casebook) make up for the occasional shortcomings in Morrison's writing, and the plot is strong and immediate enough to hold even casual readers' interest.
I found the story of this issue a little confusing in places, but I think that's the point - at this stage, anyway. One possibility that occurred to me is that Bane-Batman may be some kind of other-worldly incarnation of Batman (all that "Zur-En-Arrh" graffiti is showing up in the backgrounds again - and you can google that phrase if you don't know its significance already), and the implication that this might be tied into a more complicated explanation for the cop in the Batman costume who shot the Joker in Morrison's first issue on the book makes me more confident that the writer has a coherent long-term plan for the series, which should make for a compelling ongoing read. After a shaky couple of instalments at the tail end of "Batman & Son", this issue has got me back on board the series for Morrison and Kubert's run - for the time being, at least. Let's see where it goes.
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