REVIEWS

Batman Vs. Robin

A little while ago, Grant Morrison complained to Rolling Stone that the Comics Journal hates him: “I can’t take on those Comics Journal guys, they flattened me, as they did, it’s just defensive, smartass kids.”

I don’t know what he’s talking about. Maybe he missed my enthusiastic review of Joe the Barbarian?  In fact, I’ve loved Morrison’s work — at least some of it — since Animal Man. But I bring up this rather delusional one-sided feud only because I know what I am about to say is only going to confirm Mr. Morrison in his paranoia:

Batman vs. Robin is the kind of comic book that makes me wish I’d never heard of superheroes.

The book collects Batman and Robin issues 7 through 12. The plot, such as it is, is a rambling, erratic, arbitrary chain-reaction of improbability, absurdity, and melodrama. Time travel, mind control, devil worship, Batman clones, and resurrections pile up one atop the other while family conflict and corporate intrigue circle around with rote soap-opera familiarity. The setup to this story is that Bruce Wayne is dead, Dick Grayson has stepped in as Batman, and Damian, Wayne’s illegitimate quasi-demonic son, is the new Robin. Luckily, this is a superhero comic, so no one expects this state of affairs to be permanent. They all seem to assume that Bruce Wayne will be back sooner or later, and I can only surmise that they are right.

The characters, at least, are well suited to the story, meaning they are thinly conceived, and laughable in effect — except for when they are meant to be laughable, in which case they only succeed in inspiring a certain amount of eye-rolling. The dialogue is over-written, the visuals are uninspired, the action is tedious, and the story mechanics sputter and cough and backfire and barely manage to pull along their narrative load. 

The fight scene spanning pages 36 to 43, for example, is almost impossible to follow — not just because the images flip back and forth between scenes, and not just because the fight involves two identical Batmans. The visual logic is stiff and clumsy, the transition between panels is awkward and unclear, the dialogue consists mostly of phrases like “Aaaaaa!” and “*” and “Hhhh” and “uh” and “Rrauuggh” and “Hutt!” — though it does also include helpful exposition like, “He’s trying to kill us! . . . No matter how crazy he got. Batman never fights to kill!  It’s not him!” Aside from all of that — even if you are Batman, if someone hits you in the face with a pick axe, I’m pretty sure you die.

The only element of this book worth a second look is the cover art — specifically Frank Quitely’s covers for the first four issues collected here, and Andy Clarke’s alternate covers for the last two. On these six pages — and only there — Batman vs. Robin manages to be intriguing, provocative, horrific, and even beautiful. Alas, like so many other comics in the medium’s history, the content cannot live up to the promise of the packaging. 

It’s the sort of cheap trick that ad executives use to rip off children.

I say this, and I say it harshly, not because I hate Grant Morrison, and not because I hate Batman — but rather, because I expect more of both of them. Morrison’s readers deserve something better and, ridiculous as it is to say, so does Batman.

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36 Responses to Batman Vs. Robin

  1. Kim Thompson says:

    I can’t say I’ve followed exactly what THE COMICS JOURNAL said about Grant Morrison, but I can say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every one of the Morrison/Quitely collaborations and I’d probably read more Morrison if I liked his drawing partners on his other work better. 99% of mainstream comic book art makes my eyes hurt at this point. I have a fan-nerd’s appreciation for Morrison’s playing around in the DC and Marvel sandboxes, and I have an appreciation for the caffeine jolt of well-done mainstream super-hero work, but the graphics just leave me cold, especially when the artists change from issue to issue, which drives me nuts (although I was able to tolerate it for NEW X-MEN for the most part).

  2. tucker stone says:

    Morrison couldn’t tell you who writes (or wrote) for the Comics Journal if you put a gun to his head.

  3. Kim Thompson says:

    Well, he probably thinks they’re all a bunch of interchangeable extensions of Gary’s and my decades-long commitment to shitting all over every mainstream cartoonist. I’ve found cartoonists who get four good reviews and one bad one come away believing the JOURNAL hates them and all the writers are in collusion/under orders to destroy them.

  4. Allen Rubinstein says:

    Artists are sensitive types.

  5. I love reviews of bad mainstream comics. Thank you Kristian, that made my day.

  6. Kit says:

    Kim would probably love the Frazer Irving issues of this series.

  7. Chance Fiveash says:

    I actually enjoyed Morrisons run on Batman. It was the first Batman comics I really enjoyed since Millers Year One. I take that back, I’m actually one of the few that enjoyed Miller’s whacked out DK2. But then again, I’m not really a fan of “superheroes” so much as I am of certain creators.

    Quietly and Irving WERE the highlights, artwise, of Batman and Robin I do admit.

  8. SeanM says:

    I disagree with pretty much the whole article but I am not a vitriolic fanboy so rather than unnecessarily castigating the author, I offer my own view. This said, and before I begin, I did think the ‘feud’ talk in the introduction unnecessary; the opinions were well presented with a punk-rock attack of language. To be honest, Morrison would probably have approved.

    Anyway, to my mind, Batman an Robin and later Batman Inc are high concept spy-fi superheroics delivered with the metallic taste of the silver age. The cacophony of ideas is smashed together with LHC efficiency and we are left to analyse the fragments left behind. I don’t believe there is a single artist (save Billy Tan, whose work was too grungily inked for my tastes) who lets the side down, with each delivering pop art dynamism to the world. While I can see the soap opera elements, these more have the dream-logic plotting of Twin Peaks than the apirational sheen of American daytime soaps or the kitchen-sink dramas of British soaps. For me, Morrison’s run on Batman has been a highpoint in comics over the last few years (and please don’t assume that superheroes dominate my comics diet) and I look forward to Batman Inc’s concluding run in May.

  9. Dustin says:

    I have also enjoyed Morrison’s Batman run. I would much rather read his Adam West meets Twin Peaks (his description) stories with time travel, clones, devil worship and campy dialogue than the usual SERIOUS AND GRITTY Batman comics that are trying and failing to ape 80′s Frank Miller.

  10. I liked pretty much only the art in those (but that art was good enough to make them totally worth it, by far), and I thought the first three issues drawn by Quitely were good- er, fun at least- but, even though I really tried, I couldn’t make myself pay attention to any other issues in the series.

  11. horus kemwer says:

    Here here!

    What a biased and boring review. If TCJ is going to review mainstream stuff, they should at least *try* to do it in a manner which is not self-parodying. Stick to the indies if you don’t have anything interesting to say about superhero fare. The worst thing for me is the blatant age bias – old superhero stuff by famous luminaries = good, new superhero stuff = bad. Don’t pretend there was never random craziness, silly expository dialogue, and bizarre non sequiturs in Kirby! Not that Morrison’s run on Batman and Robin is in the ballpark of Kirby, but that just proves the damn point. And it was certainly a fun and inventive run that far surpassed most of the mainstream fair on offer at the time (and the current Morrison output as well, I’m disappointed to say).

    The real give away is the cheap cover crack at the end – it’s completely standard in the mainstream for cover artists to differ from interior artists. Who are these imaginary kids who are “ripped off” by the Quitely covers here? They’d have to be those for whom one of these issues was the first and only comic they’d ever purchased as far as I can tell! I learned that cover and interior art may differ back in the 80s when I started reading comics. And yes, I would not recommend any of issues 7 through 12 of Morrison’s B and R as the very first comic for a child to purchase – but then that’s not what a review at TCJ should be about anyway, now should it?

  12. bobsy says:

    Batman & Robin #7 is like the greatest single issue of a superhero comic ever published, and Stewart’s art throughout his three issues is superb. Surprised the reviewer here wasn’t sufficiently impressed or surprised to remark on the fact of Baxendale tributes appearing in one of BIG2′s flagship titles.

  13. ant says:

    I got that new Bill Griffith book today. It’s a big mother, ain’t it?!

  14. Alek Trencz says:

    Bobsy.

    You’ve piqued my interest, for one reason and one reason only.

    What form do these tributes take?
    And, secondarily, are they part of the script, does it seem, or a bit of chicken-fat from the artist?

  15. bobsy says:

    Dude we can talk about it at length tonight. Don’t be late!

  16. bobsy says:

    More helpfully, I mentioned it here in a typically fawning etc. review of the issue:

    http://mindlessones.com/2010/02/02/batman-robin-7-the-annocommentations/

    See Page 7, for the main.

  17. Ryan Cecil says:

    “What a biased and boring review. If TCJ is going to review mainstream stuff, they should at least *try* to do it in a manner which is not self-parodying. Stick to the indies if you don’t have anything interesting to say about superhero fare. “

    I have to agree that the Journal shouldn’t review bad superhero comics unless they are noteworthily bad (or noteworthy in any way). Do we really need to be told that DC and Marvel make bad comics? It’s a given, right? And there are enough other books to talk about.

  18. Nick says:

    GM’s comments re. the Journal and being ‘flattened’ might refer to an incident around the start of the 90s when he was critical of the Eros line (in Speakeasy, I think) and it led to an interview with Gary and Kim (again, I think) during a convention. In his follow up column Grant detailed the exchange and cheerfully admitted he wasn’t up to the debate and had basically shot his mouth off earlier, though I remember wondering at the time if there was some pressure for that admission from the publisher.

    One thing I do remember clearly is Grant commenting, after a particularly difficult question, that he had no idea why he agreed to the meeting so early in the morning, whereupon the Fantagraphics guys ask if he’s accusing them of intellectual bullying.

    Grant: I make no accusations.
    Gary: Good, the question is pending.

    It was great reading, I wonder if I can dig it up.

  19. Allen Smith says:

    Horus, wouldn’t it have been easier to just say you disagreed with a review? Does declaring bias lend any weight to what is an opinion?

    Allen Smith

  20. Benjamin Robinson says:

    If Lord Grant’s insular, masturbatory Batman run has been a highpoint in comics over the last few years for you, i’ll just assume that shitty comics dominate your comics diet.

  21. Kim Thompson says:

    That was a pretty hilarious debate. I think we still have the tape of it somewhere around here. At one point Grant said something in his strong Scottish accent, Gary said “What?”, I (who HAD understood it) repeated it (“He said…”) but imitating Grant’s accent as best I could, and an irritated Grant then restated whatever he’d said in a very funny, broad imitation of an American accent. I think Grant thought I was mocking his accent, but it was more the old vaudeville gag of someone speaking in foreign language, someone else saying “What did he say?,” and a third person just uselessly repeating the foreign speech verbatim.

    Grant’s thesis was that the EROS line was an utter betrayal of Fantagraphics (he said we were “even worse than Malibu” –at the time the nadir of comics integrity– because we “knew better,” which did sting a bit). He said that if we were hell-bent on publishing porn, why didn’t we have someone like Dan Clowes do porn, to which we replied that Clowes porn would sell no better than Clowes’s EIGHTBALL so it wouldn’t help our bottom line in the slightest AND Clowes would then be using time he could be using on EIGHTBALL to do porn, which seemed like a net loss for everyone.

    I have zero regrets about EROS. Without EROS, Fantagraphics would have gone under in the 1990s, full stop. You do what you gotta do. And clearly over the years EROS has provided a valuable service for many thousands of people.

    I’ve certainly had no ill will toward Grant since then, as I said he’s one of the very few mainstream writers whose work I’ve enjoyed (I said as much when I was interviewed for a doc about Grant although I don’t think my interview made the cut), and to the reader who complained that it was pointless to run a negative review of a mainstream comic I think the underlying point of running it here is flattering to Grant in that people need to be warned of an (allegedly) bad Grant Morrison comic because it’s unexpected.

  22. R. Fiore says:

    See, the problem in this debate is that if you’re being absolutely truthful you say to him, “Given the choice of producing the sort of superhero comics that are most commercially viable in this market and becoming pornographers, we believe it’s more honorable and dignified to become pornographers. That’s what we think of what you do for a living, Grant.”

  23. Kim Thompson says:

    We would’ve been happy to try to produce super-hero comics, but experience has proven that with the singular exception of Image Comics, if you’re not Marvel or DC any attempt to produce mass-market super-hero comics will end in tears. And we were perfectly happy to leech off super-hero comics with AMAZING HEROES for many years.

  24. Nick says:

    I remember when reading the report of the conversation (written by Morrison, probably in Speakeasy) it all seemed quite good-natured. The column he was doing was all a part of his upstart act at the time, which led to animosity with Alan Moore and Pat Kane and probably some others, and which Morrison reflect on in Supergods with equal parts embarrassment and good humour. I guess Eros was a fairly hot topic at the time, and an easy one to capitalise on. Personally I say if it pays for a few pages of Love & Rockets AND it gets someone off, everybody wins.

  25. Kim Thompson says:

    Indeed. Most of the EROS outrage at the time clearly came from a segment of the industry and readership that had a pre-existing grudge against Fantagraphics or THE COMICS JOURNAL and welcomed a handy new hook to hang their hat of rage upon.

    There are big chunks of the EROS output I could not defend as anything other than utter crap, but I could also point to a pretty sizable pile of genuinely excellent EROS books (as well as another pile of unobjectionable and often amusing wank fodder). If a new company started up tomorrow and its contributors included Ho Che Anderson, Howard Chaykin, Dave Cooper, Colleen Coover, Robert Crumb, Bob Fingerman, Gilbert Hernandez, Milo Manara, Gray Morrow, F. Solano Lopez, Franco Saudelli, Matthias Schultheiss, Tom Sutton, Frank Thorne, Bill Willingham, and Wally Wood, I think most people would be impressed.

  26. patrick ford says:

    Some of the Wood material ought to be recollected. Check out ABE or Amazon and things like the FB Sally Forth collection are bringing ass-inine prices.

  27. Kim Thompson says:

    We definitely want to re-do the SALLY FORTH stuff someday. And the more porn-y stuff that we mostly collected in NAUGHTY KNOTTY WOOD (although not the end-of-the-line, depressing stuff). CANNON’s still available at cover price from the Fanta website, though, and it’s pretty wild (and beautifully drawn). If you’re a Wood fan and you don’t have it, get it.

  28. Bill Pearson says:

    Believe it or not, Naughty Knotty Woody was one of the books I’ve produced about Wood that I’m most proud of, and I was disappointed Fantagraphics let it go out of print so soon. I put in a lot of hours assembling and retouching fragments and pencil roughs that came together just right. I haven’t read a Batman comic book in at least twenty years, and that was only because I was lettering it, so I don’t have anything to say about the review that started this conversation.

  29. Kim Thompson says:

    NAUGHTY KNOTTY WOODY REDUX for 2013, then, Bill. Waddaya say? I think it deserves a hardcover.

  30. Paul Slade says:

    http://www.amazon.com/Naughty-Knotty-Woody-Wally-Wood/dp/1560973196/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1330213214&sr=1-1

    Currently advertised at $167.57 on Amazon – but not available even at that price if the second review there’s to be believed.

  31. Anthony Thorne says:

    The second review is from more than seven years ago, so I’d imagine the sellers there now should likely have it. Used copies start at $75 – but I’m not sure if I’m gung-ho about snatching up used copies of Eros books. (One of the product description mentions ‘stains’ on the first page). If Fanta does a redux version I’ll get it. I’m enjoying the Fanta reprints (from various artists) quite a bit – the Jack Jackson volume will be a first week purchase.

  32. Kim Thompson says:

    Stains on the FIRST page? I see what the problem might have been with the previous owner that he had to resort to EROS books in the first place…

  33. Nick says:

    I can’t seem to reply to Kim’s comment below this (either it’s too deeply nested or he’s simply had enough) but I should add that I’ve no desire to knock Eros at all – as Kim points out, it has been home to an array of great talent and I’m sure its hit/miss ratio is higher than most imprints. Or perhaps I mean lower. The point is I’m fer it, not agin it. And I’d imagine a number of your critics at launch might be a little keener on the concept of erotic comics in our brave new post-Lost Girls world.

  34. James Frankenson says:

    It’s so strange to me that Morrison thinks there is A Fight with TCJ. If anything, the scale seems to tip towards (at least some of) his work among the current staff who have written on the topic.

  35. Paul David says:

    “punk rock attack of language”?????

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