By Jarrod Jones. In the 75+ years DC has published Batman, the icon has seen countless iterations and interpretations. He’s faced off against a seemingly infinite amount of villains, scoundrels, and ne’erdowells, while having his one-man war against criminality bolstered by innumerable allies. Exploited from every angle and exposed in every medium for nearly a century, Batman is a character that has shown remarkable resilience.
Throughout the years, creative runs on the Batman books have displayed a reverence for the many creators and ideas that came before, while others have depicted the crusading crimefighter in a way that’s nearly unrecognizable. Arguably, only one creative run in all these years has created a happy marriage to all the many facets of the Batman—Silver Age, Modern Age and beyond—while putting the character on the bleeding edge of superhero storytelling. Reinforced by incredible artwork from some of the finest artists in the medium, Grant Morrison’s seven-year run on Batman has proved to be one of the most polarizing takes, but there’s little argument that the ramifications of this arc are still felt to this very day.
Here is a brief inventory of ten singular moments from the last time DC loosed Morrison on the unsuspecting DC Universe, ten singular moments from Grant Morrison’s now-legendary Batman run. (Spoilers ahead!)
Night of the Ninja Man-Bats. (Batman #656.) Early on in Morrison’s run, we find Bruce Wayne freeing up time from his nightly endeavors to mingle with high society. Traveling to London to take in a charity gala (where he chances on meeting a potential new “Wayne Girl” in Jezebel Jet), Wayne’s evening attempting to solidify his slick bachelor profile is abruptly cut short by an invading army… of flying ninja man-bats. Morrison wasn’t two issues into his run, and it’s with this one moment where the reader became perfectly aware that Batman was taking the Dark Knight to places he had never been before.
Infusing the monstrous look Neal Adams brought to the original Man-Bat with his own take and decking them out with the usual League of Assassins garb, Andy Kubert concocted a masterfully absurd cadre of adversaries with which the Dark Knight could do battle. That kind of devil-may-care attitude was a refreshing injection of real, animated life to a series that had been taking itself far too seriously for far too long.
Batman #666. (Entire issue.) Jackanapes. Max Roboto. The Weasel. Flamingo. This entire issue, fittingly enough, operates as a dystopic window into another world. With Bruce Wayne long dead, Damian Wayne—dosed to the eyeballs on vicodin and more than a little mad—stands on the frontlines of Armageddon against the Anti-Christ, his only allies a Commissioner Gordon who wants to see him behind bars and a pet cat named Alfred. Morrison could have let the implied numerical symbolism of issue #666 come and go, but instead he chose to cast his readers headlong into the rabbit’s hole dug he began back in issue #655 by flashing far into the future.
Morrison would later return to this sinister version of Damian with Batman #700 and Batman, Incorporated #5 (also, artist Andy Kubert would find the concept too rich to ignore with his Damian: Son of Batman miniseries), but for a good while issue #666 blistered with its own innovation, its own audacity, and its own grip on the throats of anyone who read it. Kids who bitched about Batman never being as hardassed as The Punisher would have done well to read this issue, where they would have been forced to imagine “a kingdom of murder and madness forever and ever, amen.” It’s easy if you try.
Batman and Robin #1. (Entire issue.) How do you tell a Batman story without Bruce Wayne? Morrison forged beyond Batman R.I.P. without his leading man, sliding Dick Grayson into the be-cowled role he always dreaded. Installing the then-unpopular Damian Wayne as Robin (thus marginalizing the still-very popular Tim Drake) was the biggest gamble of the book’s premise, but under the banner Batman Reborn, DC’s trust in Morrison proved wise. This new series allowed the writer to go crazy with innovation, and with artist Frank Quitely, fresh from their earlier collaboration on All-Star Superman, Batman and Robin #1 promised to revitalize the Batman books in a way that had not happened since Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan sicced a certain Santa Priscan on the Dark Knight.
The swapped dichotomy of Batman and Robin—where Batman was the wiseacre and Robin the stoic ass-kicker—was the vital infusion of energy the Bat-books needed. The tragedy is that the duo’s partnership would be short-lived. But for a little while, nothing promised an exciting new tomorrow more than the cover of Batman and Robin #1.
The Danse Macabre of Professor Pyg. (Batman and Robin #3.) The finale of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s run on Batman and Robin found the duo going out on something of a discomfiting note. With Quitely taking over the paneled choreography from the notoriously thorough Morrison, the Scottish artist drafted a surreal tapestry of movement featuring the psychotic and downright wrong Professor Pyg. Popping on his favorite music to find the motivation with which to deform Robin (“… I like to work to music. Sexy disco hot…”), Pyg began to gyrate and grind while offering a sensual fantasy that inspired cringes nearly as often as it did laughter. Pyg turned out to be as demented as a Batman rogue could ever get, and it was this bizarre sequence that forever cemented the character into the annals of sadistic legend.
Mother and Son. (Batman and Robin #12.) The fascinating aspect of Damian Wayne’s life is that he was made to be—quite literally—the perfect child. Sired by the Batman, taken from the womb of Talia al Ghul (the Devil’s Daughter herself) and grown in a test tube, Damian was bred for a single purpose: to inherit the House of al Ghul. As the rightful heir to both the Wayne fortune and the League of Assassins, Damian’s burden was considerable. That he saw the nobility of his father’s quest and put a domino mask over his face made him an honorable character in his own right. But there were but a few in his family that saw an error in his ways.
Chiefly his mother. After secretly implanting technology into the mind of her only son, Talia al Ghul deployed Slade Wilson—aka Deathstroke, The Terminator—to exact petty revenge against Dick Grayson. The fight went over about as well as any fan of Wolfman and Perez’s Teen Titans might imagine, and resulted in an impromptu Bat-rocket straight to Talia’s headquarters, where two heart-to-hearts took place: Dick and Slade established the pecking order, and mother and son settled accounts. Permanently.
Given one final chance to accept his destiny, Damian insisted that his role as Robin had merit, asking his mother, “why can’t you love me for me?” Being too much of a perfectionist (her words), Talia denounced her son, telling him to consider himself “an enemy of the House of al Ghul.”
“Very well,” Damian said, the entire world resting on his tiny shoulders. “I hope that I can be a worthy one.”
Payback. (Batman And Robin #13.) Insanity is about to rain down on Gotham. There are only three days left until a foreboding lunar eclipse bathes the rotten city in its ominous shadows. Something ancient and evil is coming. Even the Joker, chained up in a locked cell at the GCPD, is acting more docile than usual. *dramatic pause* Or is he?
Batman and Commissioner Gordon compare notes miles away from the GCPD, and miles away from a steaming-mad Robin, fuming over the Clown Prince’s incarceration when the younger Wayne knows in his bones the smirking killer ought to be dead. Once the Joker requests the Boy Wonder’s presence, Batman and Gordon make a mad dash against time to stop blood from being spilled… but not from whom you’d expect.
Morrison takes the opportunity to turn the Robin/Joker dichotomy on its ear by placing the Mephistopheles of Mirth at the mercy of Robin for the first time ever, and the Whirling Dervish is having none of it: “… I don’t think you know what chaos is,” Damian states rather plainly, revealing, yes, a crowbar from under his yellow tunic. “Chaos is needing someone to change your feeding tube. Chaos is not being able to go to the toilet without help.” And then came the forehand heard ’round the world.
Whether or not the Joker was in complete control the entire time is irrelevant (he was); the small fact of the matter is that Morrison’s strict eye for detail wouldn’t allow him to pass up an opportunity such as this, and because he didn’t Robin fans finally found small catharsis in the Joker’s righteous ass-beating, doled out by Damian Wayne.
The Return Of Bruce Wayne. (Entire mini-series.) It’s all too much to take in on the first read. And that’s why Batman: The Return Of Bruce Wayne is on this list: it exemplifies the innate re-readability of Grant Morrison’s entire run. The finer flourishes of this dense saga were found in the pages of this mini-series, dragging the rest of the DC Universe kicking and screaming into Morrison’s new world order. Sub-plots were joined, mysteries were solved, and a vital corner piece was provided to this massive jigsaw puzzle. And yet we were only halfway through it all. The series promised so much more to follow.
Final Crisis was at an end. Batman: R.I.P. was over. An entire year had passed, and the world still needed a Batman. Even with Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne holding Gotham City down, a deeper evil waited to pounce, one that could only be vanquished by Bruce Wayne himself. Problem was, Wayne was technically dead, lost at the beginning of Man. Later he would find that he was able shoot forward through the expanse of time as a result of Darkseid’s seemingly fatal Omega Effect. In effect, Bruce Wayne became a living weapon whose arrival to the present would surely usher the end of all things. An impossible trap sprung upon by the optimum man.
Through Morrison’s guiding hand (which, in a way, was guided by Dennis O’Neil, Bob Haney and Neal Adams), Bruce Wayne found an out from his transcendent predicament, arriving to our time in the nick of time to implement some good, ol’ fashioned, two-fisted justice. It was a case that stumped the Justice League. Leave it to Batman to bail everybody out at the very last moment.
“This is Bat-Cow.” (Batman, Incorporated #1, Vol. 2.) Running down some masked thug by the name of “Goatboy” is surreal enough, but for Morrison’s opening salvo into DC Comics’ New 52 initiative, the mad Scotsman took Batman and Robin into the goriest, messiest, um… sweetest scenario he’d concocted for the Dynamic Duo yet.
Running through a gauntlet of Leviathan thugs inside of a violently functional abattoir, the Caped Crusaders find that their Goatboy (named for the immortal Bill Hicks’, erm… disturbing sketch) is nothing more than a patsy, there to bring Robin to the cross-hairs of a rocket-powered sniper rifle. The real Goatboy makes good his escape, leaving Batman and Robin to mire in the ankle-deep blood of butchered cows. And one of our heroes will have none of it.
“As of now I’m a vegetarian,” Damian Wayne haughtily declares, standing in front of what will be the first of his collection of pets. “And this is Bat-Cow.” And thus a legend is born.
The Eye of the Gorgon. (Batman, Incorporated #2, Vol. 2.) A typical gripe among comic book fans is that villains usually get the short shrift. More often than not, the motives of the comic book heavy are superficial, generic, uninspired, or worse, all three. Grant Morrison’s Batman run was leading to an epic showdown between the Dark Knight Detective and his ultimate foe, so glossing over the villain’s true intentions would have definitely portended certain failure.
In arranging the machinations of the dread Leviathan Morrison offered a slow burn reveal as to who was covertly running this criminal operation, and in doing so ultimately crafted one of the finest single-issues of his entire run. Batman, Incorporated Vol. 2 #2 wouldn’t just shed light onto the reasons why Talia al Ghul chose to wage war against the father of her child, it would violently tear away the vault door to reveal all of her intimate secrets, nefarious desires—and her ultimate purpose in Morrison’s grand scheme.
The most gorgeous part of the issue is undeniably its opener, where Ra’s carries his newborn daughter up the Himalayan slopes to show her the world she would one day inherit. Morrison and artist Chris Burnham juxtapose the sequence with panels depicting a grown Talia and her armed mercenaries marching towards her father’s inner sanctum for a takeover that’s not hostile so much as it was inevitable.
“Underestimating me is a common and fatal error,” Talia al Ghul explains to her besieged father, as she pulls the grim, spectral mask of Leviathan over her impossibly beautiful face. “For the first time, I think—I think I may just be afraid for our Detective,” Ra’s proudly retorts as Talia—and Leviathan behind her—move ever closer towards the Batman’s uncertain future.
“We were the best, Richard.” (Batman, Incorporated #8.) What might be the single greatest moment of Grant Morrison’s run is definitely one of the defining moments of Batman’s life, in the New 52 or any other era.
All is lost. Talia and her Leviathan have sacked Gotham. Hordes of children, brainwashed to serve Talia’s dark purpose, overrun the GCPD. The Batman is caught, contained within an elaborate trap that the Dark Knight will easily escape, but not before Talia’s destructive masterstroke is executed. It’s all been carefully designed to amount to Batman’s biggest failure, his supreme defeat meted out carefully by his ultimate foe. The one hope for retribution arrives far too early in the form of Robin, flying on metallic wings to rescue the day from his mother. But what Damian Wayne cannot anticipate is how far his mother has truly gone, nor can he know the depths to which she will sink to ensure victory.
Surrounded by countless Leviathan agents under a rain of relentless ammunition, Damian conjures a daring plan to counter the army with his erstwhile partner: the former Batman, Dick Grayson. The duo crack wise in a way not seen since the first pages of Batman and Robin, and it is in this brief moment of levity where Morrison chooses to make a statement on his entire run, with the same cutting petulance of Damian himself.
“So far I’d say you’ve been my favorite partner,” Damian says, looking through the panel and right into the eyes of all who dare read it. “We were the best, Richard. No matter what anyone thinks.” Grayson and Wayne lob smoke grenades at the advancing mercenaries, leap over the concrete partition that was their momentary refuge, and dive towards Damian’s ultimate fate, forever a Dynamic Duo.
Agree? Disagree? What was your favorite moment of Grant Morrison’s Batman run? Let us know in the comments section below.