A quick preambulatory moan:

Oh the art, the art was as ever a big problem. I’ll let the lovely chaps over at Comics Alliance fill you in on the specifics, all you really need to know is that the central aspects of the issue’s locked room mystery – when the Prof was killed and who did the killing – were obscured by an art error that should have been spotted by the editorial team, or, you know, someone. It’s just not okay that something like that was allowed to slip through, and it makes me wonder exactly what sort of relationship Morrison has with the editorial staff, let alone his artists. Maybe they were just in a big rush, although it’s hard to imagine why given the lead in to this issue.

That aside, I enjoyed 700 in a bitty way, but wasn’t too keen on the book as a whole. The segmented structure helped to legitimise the former response in my mind however, and consequently I feel no shame in taking the annocomment approach. Seems appropriate.

Unlike the haterz I was quite happy to see the return of Daniel, who I thought pulled off a suitably intense opening splash, and went on to acquit himself just fine for the remainder of the Adam West section. Admittedly an artist with an old-skool sensibility would probably have worked better given the intent behind the scene, just as the DC 1 Mill bit would probably have worked better with a Howard Porter or while we’re dreaming a Paul Pope at the helm, in fact Quitely and Kubert withstanding I’m rather unimpressed by the lack of ambition and conceptual rigor behind the art choices, but hey-ho. I liked the return of super feline fatale Catwoman, bat-villain team-ups, the conceptual fizz of popcrime, and the fun flips to horror Joker-led drift towards darker times nonetheless.

Morrison and Quitely reunited was, as ever, absurdly pleasurable for this mindless. Comics don’t get any better than Batman+GM+FQ, and I totally yearn in a physical chesty way to have much more Frank in Grant’s bat-comics. For some reason seeing their Grayson deliver the smack down with his batons, and their Damian whip-crack through the mutants (yay) is soooo much better than just about any other comic action ever…

…Which made turning the page on to the Kolins section such a ghastly disappointment. Obviously the entire ‘today’ segment was originally supposed be Frank’s, and who in the audience wouldn’t have given their eye teeth to have had what was looking set to be a lovely little sketch of the present day dynamic duo fully rendered by Quitely’s pencil. The easygoing, super confidence “Nah, you won’t get hurt. We’re here” begged to be properly juxtaposed with the pizza munching. I’m sure everyone had their reasons but this bat-fan felt robbed. Then there was the horrid suspicion that our Vince, if he couldn’t get those few pages done, might not be back in any substantial capacity. And then, well then there was the vileness of the crayon colouring, and the feeling that Kolins had no grasp at all of the material he was working on. To begin with his Batman was all chin and bulk in construction as opposed to lithe, but more importantly, and you’ll have to bear with me here, he had Damian smiling. Now, okay, that might be down to Grant, but whoever’s the culprit it’s completely wrong. Damian doesn’t smile, he just doesn’t, it’s a character thing, so when Damian does finally get around to smiling it should be a really, really, really big deal. It should be a when his dad finally walks back in through the door kinda big deal. It should be an important element in a scene designed to milk the tear ducts of the audience. What it absolutely shouldn’t be is thrown out there in effort to convey Damian’s joie de vivre at the prospect of flinging himself from a rooftop. This is a kid who doesn’t even cry when his mum tells him that he’s been replaced and disowns him, for gawdsake. That grinning Robin, that’s Dick Grayson all over, which is why I can’t help wondering if Kolin’s knows anything at all about the modern incarnation of Batman.

Anyway, Kubert’s Batman 666 bit was nicely done if a little sullied by some hazy colouring. I appreciate what he was going for – smog, basically – but I felt that the balance between clarity and murk could have been better struck. Over all I like that Kubert is 666’s signature artist, he marries cartoon and 90s style grit better than most, and couldn’t be more at home than when he’s drawing dead-eyed Joker toddlers and leering Joker giants.

Talking of the smog, I was taken by Morrison’s reappropriation of that old dark future/Victorian staple. Smog speaks of madness and menace and urban decay, so this being superhero comics why not get with the reification and have it literally embody those attributes? I also enjoyed the assertion that the chemicals in the atmosphere were the same ones that transformed the Joker all those years ago. Nonsense continuity porn, for sure, and in some ways a bit wrong, but good fun in a dumb-awesome way.

What I enjoyed most about this section was the inclusion of Brother Eye – as right as Damian’s grin was wrong. Of course the little guy would reactivate Brother Eye, that’s precisely the kind of Batman we’ve been told he is – a cheating, paranoid, dark future Batman who will stop at nothing to get the job done. He doesn’t have friends or a Robin, the police department are after him, Gordon hates him, his city is a nightmare riddled with boobytraps of his own devising – seen in that light Brother Eye is a logical progression. Attaching a MASER to it just gravy. The best kind of gravy, made from the meat juices of liquefied Joker monsters.

The resolution of the mystery itself, art errors most definitely notwithstanding, was a disappointment. I can’t have been alone in hoping for something a little bit more surprising, more of a twist, instead the answer turned out to be rather straightforward and, dare I say it, predictable. Admittedly I didn’t anticipate that January chap, and his gross How to Get Ahead in Advertising face or Joker baby, but the idea that the Prof killed himself in the future barged to the forefront of my thoughts the moment the locked room was introduced. The art error actually improved things for me for a while there in that I was under the impression that I’d missed something important and that something Primeresque in its cleverness had gone on. Sadly no.

Going into the next section, I didn’t pick up on the fact that Batman Beyond was supposed to be the all grown up Joker-kid. That just works. That’s brilliant, that just flares with story potential. I don’t imagine that anyone will ever do much of anything with it, but as I only really care about the DCU according to Morrison I’m not too bothered. I’ll just have to invent some possibilities in my brane, which makes up a lot of what we do around here anyway.

Amy tells me that Damian is supposed to be his mentor. Like that too, particularly the possibility for redemption that this shiny future Batman and his shiny (as opposed to Damian-bats’ grimy) future world seems to offer.

And so after a brief sojourn in the batpocalypse (it’s truly the end of the world when Batman uses a shotgun), the DC 1 Mill scene, which absence of Porter aside, is pretty enough. If the art lacks anything it is its ability to mine what just might be Morrison’s efforts to layer in a Bat-Manga (or at the very least manga). sensibility. Check out the sound FX if you don’t know what I’m talking about, and then go and buy yourself a copy of Chip Kid’s primer on the Batman of 60s Japan, and then kill yourself with a knife to the eyeball for being so fucking slow in the first place that you need to be told.

But I digress

I’m potty about the idea that Bat-Manga somehow speaks to some far future bat-sensibility, although I admit that it does smack a little of the whole Asians as Others thing. In my defence, Bat-Manga might have struck me as exotic, but in a very good way indeed. It feels fresh and innovative and exciting and breezy, exactly the sort of vibe I’d want from a bat-comic set at the dawn of the Solar-Superman age. To have really captured that vibe, if indeed that was the intention, the artist would have had to work much harder. Bat-Manga is a mess of novel and not so novel stylistic and formalistic trickery, oh and did I mention that the Japanese read their comics backwards? Crikey, I would have eaten that shit up, unfortunately all we got was maybe a gesture in the Bat-Manga direction, which wasn’t nearly enough. Big teases.

Last but not least the unadulterated magic of the eternal Bat-Signal. Proof that there ain’t no art in the world that can ruin Batman and Robin forever. Not even all those unwanted pin-up pages.

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