One thing I’ve tried to remain aware of when writing this review is that I’m basically a twat. Seriously. TBMD and Zom can ignore all the interviews and promo art – why can’t I? There’s a huge section of fandom out there who’ve had all this issue’s surprises spoiled for them, and it turns out I’m one of them. But there’s always hope; at least I haven’t changed my screen name to BRUCE WAYNE IS THE REAL BATMAN (I AM THE BATMAN) yet. No, my fandom hasn’t begun to occlude any enjoyment I may take from Batrob whatsoever, however I’d better start reigning it in if I’m going to do Grant’s new run any justice in my write-ups.

How would I feel about it all if I’d come to # 1 fresh?

Set-up issues rarely knock it out the park, and Batrob isn’t an exception to this rule, but there’s a huge amount of skill exhibited in the expository dialogue, which is usually subtle, story led and combined with quick fire character studies, a great deal of promise embedded in these here pages (I’m obviously flicking through as I type). And, importantly, it all feels rather effortless and slick.

But what I’m really interested in is the reinvisioning of tone. That’s the real selling point, isn’t it? What does it look like and how successful is it? Batrob’s David Lynch via Adam West, yeah? Let’s see if any of these parallels run more than skin deep and if they mean anything anyway…. Because, you know, anything to keep the interviews exciting and all that.

Grant’s recently nodded to the balancing act between the spooky and the gritty that makes a Batman comic work: the use of motifs commonly asscociated with the super(or supra)natural to explore ideas like mental illness, chemically altered states and emotional extremes. This is something that, as far far as we were concerned, he was up to anyway (see our RIP annos for proof), but it’s nice to see him publically recognize that’s the tack he’s taking, ’cause it means A. we were right, and B. there’s more of it to come. Deploying the otherworldy in order to illuminate the forgotten corners of the everyday is certainly a lynchian conceit and a terribly effective one at that. Where would Twin Peaks be without Bob, the frenzied, idic demon roaring out from behind the cosy armchair of Leland Palmer’s soul? Where would Mulholland drive find its fuel without the knowledge of that terrible black room and the body on the bed waiting behind the scenes of the paper-thin love story?

Where would Batman be without the bellowing bat monster crashing through a lightning paned window?

It’s right there at the start, the core of the bat-mythos. And, like all the best lynch, its never truly explained. We can take whatever interpretation we want from it: it was a fever dream, it was a demon possessing Bruce, it was a dramatically timed resolution to the future Batman’s sartorial conundrum…. Batman is conceived in the moment where the possible and the impossible smithereen across his ten inch pile carpet, and we can be as reductive as we like, but from inside Bruce’s subjectivity a cataclysm so vast has occurred one may as well describe it as paranormal, and the bat is emblematic of this twilight, inbetween world.

But what happens when it’s no longer Bruce in the cape and cowl. How does the Batman iterate across Nightwing’s soul? What does this supernatural, earth-shattering moment of transformation look like to him?

A bunch of circus types, that’s what.

Okay, you can call them supervillains if you like, but you don’t have to. They belong to a creepier world of haunted houses, halls of mirrors and turbanned robot fortune tellers… The Circus of Strange could just as easily be monsters straight out of some German Expressionist nightmare.

Dick Grayson has always been a portal to a different kind of weird. The european tradition of the carnival, the freak show, the magic lantern and the grand guignole, and further out, to fairytale and folklore. The ghost train capures all this neatly in one panel. There’s a rational explanation for all the ghouls and vampires within, only you try telling that to a screaming child. (and on an unrelated note:  I love how the dolls (are they atrons yet?) emerge from the sunken, fairground womb of Batman’s past. The warped children of Gotham – its next generation – genefixed with the traits of the old, while gesturing to the hellish new realities of consumer conformity, eugenics and an uncertain, mutant future. The Joker’s ghost train as it was originally conceived and intended, as birth canal. )

So this is a return to Gotham as fairground, a la Mr. West and the child’s eye/lunatics eye view of all things Bat, but the light has been leeched from the sky and into the neon signs and glowing advertising hoardings, and the cartoony sound-effects have worked themselves into the exploding gasoline, the smoke trails, the watersprays and the concrete. The new energies chanelled by this comic are more ludic, more dynamic, electric and vibrant, and maybe, like the new batmobile, more unbounded, freefloating and undecided, but at the same time these elements are earthed by the aforementioned, highly effective lightning rodding. Nightwing may be the *child* of Batman, but he’s also a man. The book doesn’t lose sight of that, and Grant’s sandpitting this most obvious of story-engines in a really interesting way.

One minute you’re playing on the trapeze and suddenly it’s not a game. Mum and Dad are gone and the bearded lady and the ringmaster have turned into leering beasts……..

You have to admire how seamlessly Grant and Frank weave this stuff into the brickwork of what is, on the surface of things, a very straightforward comicbook.

If Batman is to make any sense in the 21st century, other than to traditionalists and obsessives, then I think it’s the scares that have to embrace the new, afterall we’re a long way from the 1940s where the template was originally conceived, and the neo-grotesquery of Lynch and Roeg (whose poison dwarf and death-possessed tribesman I’m sure also feature in Grant’s influences) and the demented carnivalesque of Robin Hardy’s Wicker Man (which is most in evidence here) represent a mine of creepiness hitherto untapped by the batbooks, but nevertheless entirely embedded in the backrooms of the public’s subconscious. Sure, we’ve seen the pig mask before, but this time it’s sklented in a far more self-concious way -*PYG* – and, regardless of whether Grant appears to be riffing on a favourite trope, it’s signposting a revised strange for a next gen Batman, and in that sense it couldn’t be more effective. Also let’s not forget that his dialogue garishly underlines the lynchian themes of the detourned everyday at work here. The terrifying drabness of the electric heater and the peeling paintwork. The happy family in the photo subjected to the rigours of lobotomy and madness. The invasion of the weasels. Batman needs to get fighting those fuckers.

This first issue was about consolidating these ideas. The bow is taut.

Now I want to see it fire.

Read the rest of the mindless get stuck into batrob:
Botswana Beast

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