Quickie number

When I heard Andy Kubert was taking on the art chores for Morrison’s Batman book I was, initially, pretty scathing. For some reason, probably because of the guy’s fast and loose style and his ability to hit deadlines, I’d decided he was a hack (yes, my judgements can be that easily formed and baseless), but now Quitely’s taken the helm and Kubert’s sharing cover duties, I’m reminded of just how much I enjoyed his run and how fed up I was when Tony Daniel replaced him. Shit, I was even a little miffed when JHW3 took over for the Club of Heroes arc (tho’ not that much) – that’s how much I’d grown to like the guy’s stuff.

It only took the first issue of Mr. Kubert’s run to turn my hastily cobbled together, flimsy excuse for an opinion on its head. Right away the aforementioned looseness and the, dare I say it, jobbing quality of the art transformed themselves into fast paced, kinetic, pulpy goodness, and, although I have no idea if Grant was involved in the selection process, I realised that Kubert was perfectly suited to the book, because, back then, what was Grant trying to achieve? I don’t have any quotes, but if memory serves, and if the tone of the first story arc is an effective barometer, I think I’m right in saying Morrison wanted to see Bats dragged out of the gutter and back to superherodom quick sharp – a return to the ‘hairy chested’ bat-spy of legend. We were building a better batmobile, and trips to exotic foreign locations, glamorous, lethal love interests and gaudy SFX were definitely back on the menu. When Grant first started out on the book, Batman felt as light and weightless as that sequence where he’s engaging about a million ninja manbats in aerial combat above a pop art godzilla, unencumbered by decades of hardboiled bollocks. There was the feeling that anything could happen, that Batman was about to get fun again. No wonder Morrison’s original conception for RIP had Bruce snogging Jezebel in the sunlight as its starting point.

Yes indeed. Batman digs this day.

So what went wrong?

Well, I’m sure Grant would argue that the character himself had something to say on the matter, and that once he began to really assert himself, the writing had to concede to a broader bat-reality. Just as the X-Men insisted on soap-operatics, so did Batman force Morrison down a twistier, more grimy path. We still got the desert islands full of death traps and the revival of kookier, forgotten 60s and 70s bat-elements just as we were promised, but they were tempered with a heavy dose of blood, psychological damage and plenty of monologuing. Which, in the end, as anyone who’s read this blog will know, I thought was no bad thing – in fact the tonal juggling act was one of the big draws of the book – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t miss all that dayglo promise of the first few issues. I was always wondering when the new Batmobile might show up. I really hoped it hadn’t been forgotten.

I needn’t’ve worried.

It’s taken three years and the death of the principle character in order to arrive here at the thing’s unveiling. Sure, the gyroscopic array isn’t working properly yet, but Grant’s finally worked out how all the pieces fit together and we’re looking at the fully formed and functioning finished product. A new way of traversing Gotham. A new view. It’s as weightless as before, but 100% more certain.

Whereas in Batman and Son Grant had to contrive a fight scene in an art gallery to fill the panels with SPAX!s and WACKAM!s, here the comic book universe has ingested the SFX into the plaster and the smoke clouds. This is a world at ease with itself, its solutions to prexisting bat-problems elegant, inventive and fluid. It’s no surprise that here, for the time being at least, the roles are reversed, with Robin in the cowl and Batman as his kid sidekick. After all the horror of RIP and Bruce’s recent Dark Knight of the soul, it would seem the only solution is to revive the Gotham-as themepark aesthetic neglected for so long now. Suddenly the city has energy, charged up with neon, and Batman and Robin are sparking with the same electricity. And not just narratively, but physically. Quitely’s Robin zips like a glob of hyperactive green and red mercury through the space, an unstoppable barrage of kicks and kicks and fists and fists, bouncing off the wall here, slicing an arc through the air there, in a display worthy of Harley Quinn, everywhere at once. It’s just so….exciting and boundless, isn’t it?

With the emphases on velocity, the dodgeming from exciting situation to exciting situation, the new vehicles, paracapes and colourful baddies, the whole thing feels like a fairground ride, momentarily derailed by the exploding dollatrons at the end of #2, but we’ll be back on track next month….and the month after that, and the month after that…. Unlike Grant’s first go round, I expect nothing less than super-carnivalesque  for the next 13 issues. The batbooks feel fit and robust again, just like the new dynamic duo, with the stress on the dynamic part of the equation, both in terms of narrative and the way they glide, pounce and leap around the page. The point is BRUCE WAYNE IS [NOT] THE REAL BATMAN, the text itself is, and presently that text is looking remarkably sprightly and is learning some new and, importantly, fun things about itself. Bruce, when he emerges from the lazarus pit, will be feeding off that energy too. Batman’s picked up a new lease of life while he’s been dead. Quitely and Grant have made everything more flexible, acrobatic and light – there’s potential again. It’s been a long, hard road but we got there in the end.

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