Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Batman #700 review

Alright, so Batman #700. As you may or may not know, I'm not a single issue reader. I'm a trade man. I rarely make it to the comic shop. Usually only on special occasions. But this is a special issue, so it warranted a special trip to the shop. Also, it necessitates a review.

Let me tell you, Batman #700 is a goddamn trip and for me was a perfect celebration of the hero I've worshiped since childhood.

First off, let me tell you that I appreciated the structure of this anniversary issue greatly. Many milestone issues have a usual structure that you can pretty much set your clock by. Often there's a lead story that takes up a good three quarter of the pages, several couple-pages-a-pop stories from different creative teams plus bonus material in the back. For the most part, Grant Morrisons Batman #700 bucks that trend. While the back extras are there - some cool art from different artists along with a several page in depth look at the Bat cave - Morrison handles the entire story from start to finish, split up into three main chapters and a small extra one that each represent a different era of Batman. This is great, as Morrison hits many of the notes you might normally see in an anniversary ish in his main story.

The story itself is a bit more simple than many Morrison tales, and yet it's not. The story is a mix of murder mystery, generations and a hint of time travel. We start in the Silver Age trappings - Bruce as Bats, Dick as Robin and Joker as his goofier Silver Age self - hit the present - Dick and Damian in the respective roles - and finish in the apocalyptic future Gotham of Damian Wayne's Batman, with the connective tissue being the central mystery that unfolds in each time. There's nothing else that needs to be read to understand this story; the only link to current continuity is a mention of Dick and Damian looking for hints to find Bruce Wayne. It's a standalone story with everything you need to know in it's pages.

In this way, Grant Morrison really celebrates Batman and the legacy. Carried through different iterations of Batman, we get a sense of the history behind the cowl. But the final few pages are what really drive it home. To tell you what they are would spoil them - and I'm not even going to mention the joy inducing element of the Damian Wayne Batman chapter - but what it says about Batman is powerful.

In one story, Batman is boiled down and we come away with one message; no matter what, there's always hope, because Batman lives forever.

Artistically, the book is great for the most part. Tony Daniel handles the Silver Age-ish chapter. In some ways, it's an odd fit; his work looks a bit modern for a Silver Age flashback story. But it's still good. Frank Quitely turns in fantastic art for the "Present" chapter. Andy Kubert returns to illustrate the future we glimpsed on Batman #666, turning in some nice work as well. Finally, David Finch finishes the issue, illustrating the "... And Tomorrow" chapter. It's great stuff and the chapter breaks cleanly allow the shift to the different art styles for each chapter.

To say it's a total homerun is a bit misleading though. Unfortunately, it seems Frank Quitely couldn't finish three or so pages in time. So the last couple pages of the "Present" chapter is filled in by Scott Kollins. Usually his work is good - and here he takes on an interesting painterly style for those last few pages - but it's jarringly different from the rest of the chapters art. I imagine it's going to be jarring for some people. The ball was definitely dropped here; it's a small blemish on something otherwise excellent. Thankfully, everything else is awesome enough to forgive it.

The extra stuff at the back is nice as well. For the money, we get a bunch of different Batman drawings by all sorts of artists; an interesting and eclectic assortment to be certain. There's also several pages showing an in depth look at the current Bat cave handled by Freddie Williams II. Not Earth shattering stuff, but some cool stuff to look at after the main story.

All in all, I'd call this anniversary issue a success. It truly felt to me like a celebration of things that make Batman among the greatest fictional heroes of all time. In the past, some of Batman's anniversary issues have been tied into other things - #500 had Jean Paul Valley under the cowl while #600 was a part of that long running Fugitive storyline - but this one is great and truly standalone. Grant Morrison does it again, to no surprise of mine.

As cliche or corny as it may be to say this, here's to seven hundred more.

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