Tuesday, January 23, 2007

 

That's *my* Batman

Man, Lou Anders is going to hate this.

As I've said before, there are Superman People and Batman People. But I think it's a bit more complicated than that. Perhaps Superman and Batman occupy opposite ends of a spectrum, and we fall somewhere in between. Because while I'm not usually a big Batman fan, there is a Batman for me, we just haven't seen him in a while.

See, I grew up reading reprints of old DC comics from the forties, fifites, and sixties, whether in the pages of the DC Blue Ribbons Digests, or in hardcover collections, and I pored over encyclopedias like The Great Superman Book (and I greet with excitement the news that DC is starting to reprint the Fleischer encyclopedia series, starting with the Batman volume in just a few months). So even though I was reading comics in the seventies, in the days of the serious Denny O'Neill Batman that others love so much, the Batman I came to know was the one who routinely fought aliens, or travelled through time, or peered into the future to see what his distant descendant the Batman of the Future was doing. This was a Batman who seemed to fight crime because it seemed like a fun thing to do, and who spent a lot of time smiling.

Morrison's first arc on Batman, "Batman and Son", seemed like good, goofy fun to me, even if other's didn't agree. And what I liked best about it was that there were hints, here and there, of my Batman. And if this interview with Grant Morrison is any indication, it looks like we may be seeing more of him again pretty soon.
“I was going to kill the kid [in Batman #658], but I just couldn’t do it,” Morrison admits. “He ends up playing a big role because I really like the character.

“Issue #666 [in the summer],” he laughs, “is Damian grown up as Batman of the future fighting the Anti-Christ.”
Batman of the Future. See, that's where I came in.

But it doesn't stop there. Morrison goes on to name check my single favorite bit of Batman-lore, swept under the rug and largely ignored in the last few decades.
From the Batman of the future, Morrison will segue into the Batmen of the past, a.k.a. the Batmen of All Nations, a.k.a. the Club of Heroes, an international team of Batman-inspired heroes who debuted in Detective Comics back in the 1950s.

“To me, it’s just what would have happened if these guys had been around and the stories of them had been getting told all through the ’80s, so they’ve been through deconstruction and reconstruction,” the writer says. “It was kind of neat looking at what could go wrong with Batman. The Italian guy who was a mature type film hero has become this big, fat guy who loves eating and trades on his past glories as The Legionary. The Knight and The Squire are still active but it’s a grownup Squire and The Knight has his own Squire. The Gaucho has become a serious Argentinean superhero who is well respected—he’s the real deal. Wingman, who Batman trained in the past is now really pissed off, and doesn’t want to admit that Batman ever trained him because he wants to make his own way.
You hear that everybody? The Batman of All Nations.

Who were they? Well, only the coolest crew of international crime fighters you could find, and everyone of them inspired by the Dark Night Detective himself. Don't believe me? Check it out.



Back in 1955, Batman got together with a bunch of heroes who were inspired by his example -- each with an appropriate bit of localization -- and formed "The Batmen of All Nations."



Who can't love that? An Italian crimefighter called the Legionnaire? A French crimefighter called the Musketeer? A British Knight and a South American Gaucho? I mean, how did they come up with such original characters?



But being a generous sort, Batman didn't hog all the international goodness for himself, and so in 1957 the group was renamed "The Club of Heroes", and Superman was invited to take part in the fun.



(The following year, Green Arrow, no doubt feeling snubbed that he hadn't been invited to join the Club, went off and formed a group of his own, "The Green Arrows of the World." But really, that's just kind of sad...)



In the years that followed, the Batmen of All Nations/Club of Heroes would be largely forgotten. They'd make a brief reappearance in the days following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, a handful of appearances in the pages of Infinity, Inc and The Young All-Stars, but retooled by Roy Thomas and JM Lofficier to remove any reference to the Dark Night Detective (instead, they were a sort of proto-Global Guardians, inspired by the WWII exploits of the JSA). And in the Kingdom Come miniseries, Mark Waid and Alex Ross introduced "The Batmen of Many Nations," a group of future heroes inspired by the present-day Batman, including the Cossack (from Russia), the Samurai (from Japan), and the Dragon (well, you get the idea...). But as nice as these little nods were, they weren't the Batman of All Nations I remembered. Where was the Knight? Where was the Gaucho?

A couple of years ago, there was a little glimmer of hope. Grant Morrison, in the first arc of JLA Classified (which served as a handy prologue to his Seven Soldiers), introduced readers to the new Knight and Squire. The Knight, briefly glimpsed in an issue of JLA Morrison had written a few years before, was revealed to be the Squire who'd palled around with the Club of Heroes in the old days, now grown up, who'd taken over the mantle of his father and predecessor. The new Squire was a cocksure, tech-savvy teenage girl, naturally. Along the way (and right before opening up his "Sci-Fi closet", in which he stored all the wacky gadgets that would upset his friends in the Gotham City Police Department), Batman shares a brief reminiscence with Alfred the Butler about the good old Club of Heroes. Then he hops into his flying saucer and heads off to Pluto.

This was more like it. This was the Batman I remembered.

And now, if that interview with Morrison is to be believed, we're about to see more of him. With the surviving members of the Club of Heroes in tow (though perhaps a bit worse for wear), to boot. I know that Batman-purists probably won't be happy about it, preferring their Caped Crusader a bit more down-to-earth, a bit more street-level. But if it means that Batman is going to hop into his flying saucer, check out the doings of the Batman of the Future, and pal around with the international heroes inspired by his example, all the while with a smile on his face, then I'll happily be along for the ride.

Comments:
Yeah, you pretty much nailed my reaction. I doubt I'll even read it.
 
Ditto that, man. I've known for years that Grant Morrison was really mired in 50's and 60's kitsch-DC, and always admired his ability to write the stories as if he wasn't.

That ship has now sailed. There's a Shumacher-like hubris at work here that I'm not really comfortable with. There's other, better, more successful takes on the Batman, but Morrison is going to dial it all back because that's what he first grew up on. Seems counter-progressive, to me.
 
Oh, no, Mark. Not you too?

Ah, screw you guys. It's going to be good. Just go curl up with your copies of Batman: Year One and let the rest of us have our fun.
 
Mark,
You've nailed it.
Not just counter-progressive, but exclusive in that its continuity-laden. They don't need to be harkening back to Year One or the 1950s. They need to be writing stories that appeal to the readers of 2007, not stories that only old farts like me or Chris recognize our favorite or least favorite childhood memories in.
 
Chris -- I hadn't remembered the Batmen of the World -- but I have been missing the old friendly Batman of before the New Look, the goofball with a closet full of specialized Bat-Costumes (zebra-striped) and started searching for information on the Dynamic Duo and Superman's time trips as aided by Professor Nichols: "The Super-Musketeers" is what I remembered, and Batman and Robin meeting Robin Hood. Frankly, I want more friendly, goofy Batman and Robin and less gritty street-level masked psychotic.

I feel like they've screwed up the qualities of Batman, Superman, and even the Martian Manhunter that I've always loved.

Back to the Silver Age, sez I!
 
Stu, if you long for the silver age, I can't recommend Grant Morrison's All Star Superman highly enough. It's *exactly* the kind of thing you're talking about, but done with the sophistication of the best of modern comics. (Though I'd advise you to stay as far away from All Star Batman as possible, which is everything you're likely to despise about the current version of the character.) I know a collection of the first issues of All Star Superman is due out this spring, if you can't find the individual issues around.
 
I picked up the most recent issue of All Star Superman (with the future Supermen and the death of Jonathan Kent) and really loved it. I'll be picking up any collection of the earlier issues.

I thought that Infinite Crisis's take on the Superman of Earth-2 and the post-Crisis Superman was terrible and the series generally incoherent. The new Justice League of America has been somewhat better. I don't think that it's just nostalgia (tho that may play an element in the mix) but a longing for heroes who were heroes and had ethics and oaths to uphold (one reason why I enjoyed Kingdom Come). I keep thinking that I don't need these four-color and literary figures anymore... and then realize how much I learned from the Lone Ranger, Batman and Superman, Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade, John Carter and Kimball Kinnison.
 
I'm coming into this late, but great write-up Chris! I love this stuff, and really appreciate your research. By the way I think there is room for everyone's Batman. And depending on my mood I can prefer fun Bats or dark and gritty Bats. I think Morrison's JLA Bats is one of my faves, kind of an amalgamation of sci-fi Bats and smartest-guy-in-the-room ass-kicking Bats.

BTW, that little JLA Classified run was one of the best widescreen high concept stories DC has ever printed. It's still ahead of its time.

And everyone has prob already seen this by now, but nice foresight Chris, really looking forward to this storyline, thanks again!

http://www.dccomics.com/comics/?cm=7426
 
Thanks, Jon! And yes, I'm most definitely looking forward to that upcoming Batman arc. I think Morrison's Batman is probably my personal favorite as well, a nice mix of all the versions that have gone before.

I reread that JLA Classified arc a few months ago, when rereading Seven Soldiers, and was just amazed at the sheer density of information in the first issue. Some truly compressed storytelling going on there.
 
Yeah, sometimes Morrison can be at his best when he has more ideas than actual room to tell the story.
 
Well, its nice that somebody likes the lame take on Batman. I grew up in the 70's and thought there should have been a lot more to the character at the time. And was very glad when they started him back on a darker path.

The only good thing about this take is that the next guy to take over writing duties will probably so loathe what's been done, that Bruce will end up darker than ever.
 
FUCK THE SILVER AGE.

Silver Age DC comics were GARBAGE and I can't bring myself to read them. The only reason why people like them is that they read them during their childhood, so they hold bias. And modern comics haven't enough fans because teens these days are more interested in TV, movies and games than comics, not because they are worse (they are actually A VAST IMPROVEMENT over the Silver Age nonsense).
 
Gee, anonymous, thanks for your thoughtful and timely comments. You're absoultely right, I've been turned around about the whole thing.
 
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