As I said a while back, I’ve been getting back into Batman recently. I’ve read a few more Batbooks since that last post, and they’ve reflected the general trend for Batman stories veering wildly between genius and utter rubbish, with the tales being told in the main ‘canon’ Batman storyline generally being overstuffed and hamstrung by the need for continuity.
I read the second volume of Gotham City Sirens, for example, which works off the brilliant premise of taking three iconic females – Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn – and giving them some time in the spotlight. I particularly liked the idea that they’re trying to wean Harley off her obsession with the Joker, and I liked the development of her character in the way she uses her background in psychiatry to manipulate people. But the concept gets diluted because it all has to be woven into the main storyline, with more and more plot threads and characters thrown in for the hell of it. And it all ends up being so inconsequential – at three separate points, one of the ladies vows to kill one of the other characters, but of course they don’t because it’s a comic book and main characters never (or almost never) get killed in comic books. So you end up just nodding and smiling knowingly whenever such vendettas are proclaimed. “Oh yeah, you’re going to kill so-and-so are you? Well let’s just see how that turns out. Oh, it turns out you didn’t kill them! Quelle surprise.” Oh, and the potentially interesting plot line of Poison Ivy being romantically attracted to Harley gets thrown in and then never returned to, which seems like a wasted opportunity for character development.
Batman: Harvest Breed, on the other hand, showed more potential in the sense that as a one-shot it could escape the canon and tell a standalone story. Unfortunately, it was awful. It quickly descended into far-fetched tales of witchcraft and a portal to Hell being opened in Gotham, and it really didn’t feel like a Batman story at all.
Batman: Absolution, however, was utterly brilliant. It goes to show that when done well, mixing Batman and religion really works wonderfully, and it weaved a gripping tale where Batman is forced to question his own motives when a terrorist seeks redemption through good deeds as a missionary. The stand-out sequence has to be the main antagonist pouring out a tale of childhood woe, interspersed with cuts to Batman’s world-weary, uncaring thoughts. This Batman is ruthless, unbending, a terrifying force of nature.
Batman: Holy Terror, the opening tale of the Batman: Elseworlds collection, also goes to show how religion can work well in the Batman universe, set as it is in an alternative United States ruled by a fundamental Christian sect. Bruce Wayne emerges as a vicar by day, vigilante by night, and its a tale that comes across as genuinely intriguing and often shocking. Sadly, the other stories in the volume that I’ve read so far can’t measure up to the brilliance of the opener. Batman as the Lone Ranger is as rubbish as that concept sounds. And Robin 3000, although fairly interesting, owes a huge debt to The Incal, next to which it pales into insignificance.
A pleasant surprise came in the form of Batman: Knight and Squire. This British version of Batman had the potential to be utterly naff, but the writers lovingly embraced the cheesiness of the concept, telling a tale that rarely took itself seriously but also had some surprising moments of pathos. The author lovingly acknowledged inspirations from classic British comics, and cleverly avoided Knight coming across as a pale imitation of the American Batman by openly acknowledging that Knight, and the rest of the cast, are pale imitations of their American counterparts – which ends up being a central tenet of the storyline. It’s clever, postmodern, and above all very, very funny.
If you have any more recommendations for Batbooks, I’d love to hear them!
Buy Gotham City Sirens Volume 1 on Amazon.
Buy Batman: Harvest Breed on Amazon.
Buy Batman: Absolution on Amazon.
Buy Elseworlds Batman on Amazon.
Buy Batman Knight And Squire on Amazon.
Buy The Incal on Amazon.