Sunday, August 1, 2010

Batman: Under the Hood Volume 2 (comics)

Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Doug Mahnke, Shane Davis, Eric Battle
Collects: Batman #645-650, Batman Annual #25

What would you do if you had a son that died? What if he returned? What if, upon his return, he denounced everything you held sacred, believed you had failed him and went down a dark path, turning his back on the beliefs you tried to instill in him? If he then became a murderer, inhabiting areas of gray and going to the places you wouldn't? Do you stop him? Try to save him? Does your guilt overpower you?

This is the dilemma faced by Batman; not a physical battle, but a battle of emotions and reopened wounds from what he considers his greatest failure.

The whole Under the Hood storyline does many different things, but if there's one theme that stands out, it's the theme of fathers and sons. Alfred and Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne and the young men he takes in and considers to be his sons. The very conflict at the root is a father versus a son; Jason Todd has returned to life* and taken on his fathers mission. Only he no longer believes - and maybe never truly believed - in his fathers most sacred rule. No killing.

It's a theme that would be used pretty consistently in the Batman comic for the next couple of years, but in this case it was used to put Batman through the ringer emotionally. Jason Todd is a physical manifestation of his failures; a son who honestly cannot understand why his father would not kill the man who murdered him. It's not an unrealistic question either; only in fiction could a father see his murdered son alive again and in front of him, giving his thoughts on the fathers actions. In real life you can only speculate; and in most cases the father would likely rather believe that his son would believe he'd made the right choice.

This is the dynamic that's "under the hood", if you will, and Judd uses it to great effect. He wrings what feels like genuine emotion out of a story that could only happen in fiction. The climax of the long story feels heartfelt; the three people at the heart of where the road all began in a showdown where Batman must choose between his son or his conviction. There really isn't much I'd change** and while I'm sure others may disagree, I think of this story as a great entry into the never ending saga of Batman.

The Annual that closes the volume, however, is somewhat unfortunate. We don't get the answers to how Jason Todd was brought back within the main storyline proper - honestly, it doesn't matter, because while Batman does wonder how, the circumstances are not what the story is about - so the answers end up coming here, almost as an afterthought. I wish they wouldn't have bothered; the details would best have been saved for another day when a better idea had come along.

Truthfully the annual really flubs it. The reason Jason returns is too heavily tied into the big event at the time. Said circumstances worked for continuity glitches, but it being used to resurrect a character honestly felt hackneyed. It doesn't exactly ruin the storyline or anything - I find the insistence by some that it does rather dumb and I suspect they missed the point entirely - but it's a bad decision that detracts from what is otherwise an okay tale of how the newly resurrected Jason got from point A to point B.

While the writing is, for the most part, very good, the art can be unfortunate at times. I'm not sure what was going on here - perhaps deadlines got a bit tight - but the work sometimes comes off sloppier than it should while other times being solid stuff. There's nothing that kills the story, but it would have been nice to have a hundred percent from the artists all the way through.

Speaking of art, the cover artist isn't the same for these issues as was the issues in the first volume. Instead of Matt Wagner, we have Jock as the cover artist. He does some nice covers, but I quite liked the style Wagner had with his covers. It's not even remotely a big deal - it's just covers, after all - but I suppose it bore mentioning considering I quite liked the ones last time.

The Score: 8 out of 10

In all, I think Under the Hood turned out a lot better than most people expected. Bringing back Jason Todd was risky - and I admit I had my doubts years ago - but Judd Winick managed to pull it off not by focusing on the why's but on the impact it has on the Dark Knight. It's good reading and I feel it's worth the loss of one of the "sacred deaths".

* Yeah, I know, that's technically a spoiler. But come on now. It's been five years since this story was serialized in the Batman comic proper. If you didn't know Jason Todd had come back to life by now, you've been living under a rock.

** While I said there wasn't much, there is one thing I would have added to the climax. I thought it was unfortunate that Batman did not bring up that he wanted to kill the Joker after Jasons murder and in his grief had every intention of doing so. He never got the opportunity (not to say he would or would not have if he had, I'm just musing).

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