Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Batman: Haunted Gotham (comics)

Writer: Doug Moench
Artist: Kelley Jones
Collects: Batman: Haunted Gotham #1-4

Hey, you know what would have been bitchin'? A spiffy banner that says "Elseworlds" across the top letting me know that, you know, this is an Elseworlds tale. Yup, would have been great knowledge to have beforehand.

Now, don't take this to mean I would have avoided it if I'd known or anything. I like them and I kind of wish DC would just bring the damn tagline back. I guess the old "readers only want stories that matter" chestnut is what nixed that. The problem is that I had no idea it was one of said stories until I cracked it open. I figured it was a Halloween themed Batman collection, of which I know at least one exists*. There's no real indication until you start to realize "wait a minute, Bruce is an adult and his parents are still alive".

So, thanks for that clear branding, DC.

Now that we've established what it is, we'll get into the meat of it. This particular Elseworlds is based around the supernatural, with Gotham - or Haunted Gotham, as the city is oddly named - being essentially cut off from the rest of the world and constantly besieged by dark forces. Bruce Wayne has been training his whole life for some unforeseen destiny laid out for him by his father. Once his parents die by the hands of a werewolf, it finally becomes clear; he is to save Gotham from the devils that claim it as their playground as the Batman.

Doug Moench is a name that I don't see brought up a lot when it comes to Batman discussions. This is despite the fact that he's had a fairly lengthy history with the character; back in the 80's he was on board for three or four years - not all that impressive until you realize he wrote both Batman and Detective for all of that duration - and another multiple year stretch on just one in the 90's. Despite that, I don't think I've seen much of his work collected.

His writing style is... dense, I guess; this miniseries is pretty wordy. This is to its benefit and to its detriment. Sometimes he goes out of his way explaining things, while occasionally it can seem almost poetic, I suppose you could say. At any rate, it's a bit old fashioned and others might not have my level of tolerance for that.

As for the art, it's done by Kelley Jones, who Moench has worked with a good deal over the years. I'm not a fan of his style. I can certainly enjoy an exaggerated style, but Jones frequently goes to the point of absurd. For the cool aspects - his Batman is pretty Spawn like, with ridiculously long ears at times and a cape that seems to never end - there are plenty of moments of ridiculous anatomy, odd body contortion, cowl ears changing length between panels, a leg thrust out into a kick drawn way too long, etc. I want to say it's almost Liefeldian at times, but that doesn't feel fair, as Jones shows a much better grasp at other points.

It's hard to describe what I mean by this, but these issues I have are also offset by the type of story. Horror and the supernatural play to his strengths - where a nightmarish Batman seems right at home - and in that way, his style feels almost at home with the material. I don't know; it's one of those odd impressions you feel like you can never fully articulate. While I'm not a fan, I can see some ways where his style of art can be a strength.

These are, in all, fairly beefy issues contained within. Each is its own chapter, really, dealing with a new threat in this alternate world. Moench and Kelley also keep from going overboard with reacasting classic rogues in their alternate universe as well, leaving new, story specific threats to take their place. This is appreciated; as much as I like elseworlds, sometimes they seem just as preoccupied with showing off the rogues gallery in altered form - plot relevancy be damned - as they are with telling an actual story.

The Score: 6 out of 10

A bit below average, but not outright bad. It's fitting reading for this time of year, even as Halloween has passed and we move on to giving thanks. I wouldn't recommend anyone run out to get a copy, but it's not the comic equivalent of toxic sludge either.

* Turns out the Halloween themed collection I'm thinking of is "Haunted Knight". It was also by a completely different team, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Oops.

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