Saturday, December 19, 2009

Batman: The Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul (comics)

Writers: Grant Morrison, Paul Dini, Peter Milligan, Fabian Necieza
Artists: Tony Daniel, Ryan Benjamin, Freddie Williams II, Don Kramer
Collects: Batman #670-671, Batman Annual #26, Robin #168-169, pages of Robin Annual #7, Nightwing #138-139, Detective Comics 838-839

"Too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the soup."

If you've been out of the womb for more than ten minutes then you've probably heard that one. It's a very common saying, but it's common for a reason; eighty percent of the time it's spot on. This goes for comics too. Especially crossovers. In fairness, it's possible to buck the trend, as Batman himself has had several well done crossovers.

This is not one of them.

Batman: The Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul is a story that is pretty much summed up by it's name; Ra's Al Ghul is dead, but he got better. It was a story that was almost inevitable. After all, refusing to die is pretty much Ra's entire deal. Still, inevitable doesn't mean it will be good, but this story had every reason to succeed; after all, it's headed up by crazed Scottish genius Grant Morrison and Paul Dini, who was regular writer of Batman: The Animated Series.

But those two aren't the only writers involved; and therein lies the problem.

After a couple of prologue chapters - the first of which being pretty decent while the material from the Robin annual being just awful - the story kicks into high gear with the actual prologue issue, written by Grant Morrison. In a brilliant move, Grant skips the resurrection entirely; when the story kicks off, Ra's is already alive, though decaying, and wants to take over Damians body. Obviously, the lovable little bastard has a few issues with that. It's a pretty quick moving prologue that sets the stage nicely for something that could just be great.

Then we get to the next issue - a Robin issue - and it all goes to hell.

This crossover fails in large part because of the Robin and Nightwing issues. Most of them end up embroiled in a subplot where Robin contemplates using the Lazarus pits to bring his dead friends and family back to life. We've been to that well who the hell knows how many times before and in this story it simply comes across as a tedious way of bringing in the Robin and Nightwing ongoings into the crossover for old times sake. Any scenes from those issues worth the time involves - surprise, surprise - Ra's and Batman, while said subplot succeeds in doing little more than breaking up the flow of the story.

Really, this crossover brought up a problem that I wasn't surprised cropped up but was still dismayed to see. Such being that aside from Grant and to some small extent Paul Dini, no one involved in the writing actually understood the character of Damian at the time of publication. It's not entirely their fault - when this was serialized it was only the second real story with Damian - but the other two main writers miss the point of him completely. Under Grants pen, Damian is a spoiled heir to the Batman dynasty who can be a prick, but carries some semblance of his fathers goodness in him, just desperately needing the guiding hand to help him. A mini-Batman, really, with intense loyalty to his father, whom he strives to take after. Under Milligan and Nicieza, however, he's depicted as little more than a spoiled prick with no redeeming qualities whom golden boys Dick and Tim have to pull out of the fire numerous times while lamenting that the world would probably be better off without him.

The Batman and Detective issues, however, are what convince me that this crossover could have been great. They're chock full of great moments, especially in Grants chapters. Mostly spotlit on Batman and Ra's, these issues display the respect between the two better than any of the others seemed to. The fight between Batman and Sensei in Batman was also something else. The idea of a two minute master of combat is nigh genius, as is the revelation of the tie's between Ra's and Sensei. Grant chapters are the best of the bunch and are where you get the sense that there really were good ideas buried by the other chapters. Dini's chapters are a bit spottier, but he still manages to keep up a decent pace with Grant, even if he doesn't completely understand Damian himself. Had the Robin and Nightwing titles not been involved, I really believe this story could have worked.

However, story problems aren't all of the stories worries; the art pretty much kicks any remaining value out of it.

The best artist of the bunch is Tony Daniel, without question. I've pretty much followed his work over the course of his Teen Titans run, watching him improve. This was his first work with Grant Morrison and while the art wasn't perfect, the improvement can be seen here too. If nothing else, his work was the cleanest and easiest to look at, leaving me satisfied and looking forward to see him improve even more over time.

Everyone else pretty much just drags his work down. The worst of all the artists involved is easily the work of Ryan Benjamin. His work is craggly and unappealing, with odd choices to display motion as well as broken storytelling. His work is a stark, unappealing contrast to the work of Tony Daniel, so much so that such art really had no business being used in conjunction with an artist with such a strikingly different style.

The other artists are far more competant, but each of them carries a style that they do not even try to mesh with the rest. Every chapter has a drastic shift in art, jarring you out of the story like an icy slap in the face. The worst of all seems to be the depiction of zombie Ra's; no one save Tony Daniel seems to have a clear vision for what zombified Ra's should look like, from fat and chunky to one with a face not even resembling Ra's. It's appalling and a textbook example of how not to do the art in a crossover; it's like the various artists didn't even try to mesh with one another or follow each other's lead.

Which again brings me back to how bloated this crossover feels. Give Don Kramer to Dini's issues, cut out Robin and Nightwing completely then add an extra issue of Batman and Detective each and this could have worked. As it stands, this crossover feels like a bunch of other writers ruining Morrison and Dini's good time, to say nothing of the artists who simply can't keep up.

Had this been only Morrison and Dini's show, I think this could really have been a fun story. As it is it's inherently skippable; thankfully - aside from the appearance of Damian and a mention of the ritual Bruce underwent in 52 - this story has little relation and no bearing on Grant Morrison's overall Batman run. The scene where Batman rips Sensei's staff out of his side and nails him with it was awesome enough that I didn't feel like I completely wasted my cash, but I doubt the few moments of that excellence will do the same for you. Don't waste your money.

My Opinion: Skip It

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